Speaking at the United Nations yesterday, Chinese President Xi Jinping lauded his country’s record on women’s rights and gender equality. Meanwhile, the U.S. and other human rights critics struck back by highlighting China’s record of jailed women’s activists.
At a U.N. meeting of world leaders on gender equality and women’s empowerment that marked the 20th anniversary of the U.N. women’s conference in Beijing, Xi promised to “reaffirm our commitment to gender equality and women’s development.” He added that in China all women have the opportunity for a better life.
“As the Chinese people pursue a happy life, all Chinese women have the opportunity to excel in life and make their dreams come true,” Xi told the meeting.
In more concrete terms, Xi called on developed countries to “scale up financial and technical assistance to developing countries,” promising that China would donate $10 million to the U.N. to “support women’s development worldwide.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. and other critics ripped China for its jailing of women’s rights activists who tried to express their views in public. Most notably, five women’s activists were detained on International Women’s Day in March for planning a demonstration against sexual harassment on public transportation.
The women were released a month later following a firestorm of international controversy. However, the activists say that the arrests have had a great chilling effect on the women’s rights movement in China.
“If you want to empower women, don’t imprison them on the basis of their views or beliefs,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said in a statement.
Across the street from the U.N., Power has organized the display of 20 photographs of women who have been jailed for dissent. One of the photos is of veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu, 71, jailed in April for seven years for “leaking state secrets.”
China-favorite Hillary Clinton also happened to weigh in on the event:
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 27, 2015
Hillary Clinton provided the defining moment in the seminal 1995 Beijing conference with the message that: “If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.”
Many of China’s women’s rights activists say they were inspired by Clinton’s speech and by the conference; however they were pressured not to commemorate the event, the Guardian reports:
But among China’s independent women’s groups there will be a deafening silence. With a severe political crackdown under way, independent activists say security officials have ordered them to refrain from any public form of commemoration.
“The authorities don’t want active commemorations,” one campaigner, who asked not to be identified, told the Guardian. “It’s very tender.”
Chinese women’s activists do note advances for women in China in the last 20 years, most notably a new anti-domestic violence law that should go into effect next year.
However, they are quicker to point out all the areas where China seems to be losing ground:
The participation of urban women in the workforce has slumped while female university applicants face unofficial quotas that mean they must score higher than male candidates in entrance exams.
Official statistics show a dramatic jump in the gender income gap since the 1990s and female participation in politics has ground to a halt.
Hopes in 2012 that a woman would claim a place on the Communist party’s elite decision-making body came to nothing.
Alibaba CEO Jack Ma also said on Sunday that his company would donate $5 million to help support women in career development.