Women in Deserve of Respect
Updated: May 6, 2020
Are women in China treated with the kind of dignity and respect they ought to be under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)? Given the global coronavirus pandemic and the political situation in China and its various Special Administrative Regions (SAR), how have women fared? Are patriarchal systems in the male-dominated world playing fair, or is sexism still rife?
In the global context, several recent media reports have shone the spotlight on successful female political leaders' handling of the coronavirus crisis in their own country (Thanks Google!):
CNN : Leta Hong Fincher
The Guardian : https://www.theguardian.com/profile/jonhenley/
USA Today : https://www.usatoday.com/staff/2646700001/ndea-yancey-bragg/
It is no surprise to Hong Kongers, however, that their Chief Executive (CE) Carrie Lam doesn't make the media cut.
Mrs Lam has been the source of much aggravation even before the Coronavirus crisis came along. She is viewed as nothing more than a puppet for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), running a pretence for government in the Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China! As Beijing's pick for the CE role she was elected to office in March 2017 in a small circle election, winning just 777 votes from the 1,194-member Election Committee, composed mostly of Beijing loyalists.
The average Hong Konger will tell you that their safety and good health has never been the CE's priority. Lam's government is not much trusted and has very low approval ratings. It took strikes by medical staff and pleading from experts to get her to close off most of the City's many China border points.
Like what has happened in so many other countries, there has been a continuing flow of HK citizens returning home to the SAR to escape the rising threat of infection elsewhere.
However, what has not escaped the attention of some observers, is that in the early days of the Coronavirus pandemic - in January 2020 - many mainland Chinese were on the move ostensibly for Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations. Others possibly fled impacted provinces in response to rumours (or even advice?) while they could, escaping to HK and flying on to other destinations by whatever flights they could take, to where ever they would be allowed in.
When the CE was recently questioned by media and effectively accused of allowing HK to be a transmission route for Covid-19 out of mainland China and to other countries of the world there was unsurprisingly an angry response. Was the 'progressive strategy' of closing the border to arrivals and residents from Hubei at the end of January too late?
Nevertheless, according to the New York Times, since Chinese officials disclosed the outbreak of a mysterious pneumonia-like illness to international health officials on New Year’s Eve, at least 430,000 people have arrived in the United States on direct flights from China, including nearly 40,000 in the two months after President Trump imposed restrictions on such travel, according to an analysis of data collected in both countries.
At any rate this is something of a distraction, though it's worthy of some good investigative journalism. Like, hypothetically, was the CE instructed by the CCP to keep certain HK borders open? Was any threat or coercion offered by the CCP either directly or through its liaison office in HK? The answers to these questions would make a great article, whether there was known to be transparency in the mechanisms of governance in HK or not.
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At the end of April 2020, a non-profit organisation The Women's Foundation (TWF) in Hong Kong (HK) launched a major campaign to raise awareness on sexual violence and assault, of which one in seven women in HK have experienced. Despite the staggering numbers, 90% of women choose not to report their assault.
During the protests and rallies in HK in 2019 it's clear that many women, whether as active participants in the civil unrest or passive observers, bore the brunt of physical and sexual assault; too often it was at the hands of male officers in the HK Police Force (HKPF). The force insists they respect the rights of people in detention, and say that without formal complaints they have nothing to investigate. Despite these routine pleas for those who make public allegations against the Police to make their complaints more formally, few women do so.
A key difficulty for women wishing to make a complaint against police officers is the need to identify those involved. This has been nigh on impossible during the 2019 civil unrest as many people acting as police have not worn or shown their distinguishing warrant card or identification. The HKPF have also been seen to close ranks, refusing to disclose operational details of officers on duty at certain times in specific locations.
Throughout the second half of 2019, there are numerous cases where the police officers on duty did not show their warrant cards despite it being a legal requirement for them to do so. There are also numerous documented cases where police officers either refused to show the warrant card when requested by the press or citizens, or simply ignored the requests. None of the members of the Special Tactical Squad deployed on 12 June, for instance, showed the police ID number as it was claimed by the Secretary for Security John Lee that the uniform design did not allow the ID number be displayed.
The police refused to provide the ID number for the squad as "it would hinder the investigation of crimes and affect public safety". This prevented the general public from complaining about the police officers and raised further controversies. A police spokesperson stated that police officers were not required to wear the warrant card all the time; on the other hand, the official police television programme "Police Report", stated the opposite.
The few women that do go to the trouble of making formal complaints have not had the satisfaction of seeing justice done. Too often their complaint is blocked, denied and undermined, or as complainants they are publicly vilified by the force for making an accusation in the first place.
The whole set up of HK's investigating bodies lacks independence, accountability and the necessary authority to end Police abuse of women.
Let's sample a few representative cases (with sincere apologies and sympathy to those women involved):
1) "A Hong Kong woman arrested during a protest has accused a female officer of conducting an unreasonable full strip search without gloves, and of using a pen to force her to spread her legs. The incident was described as a “metoo” sexual assault case at a press conference on Friday." 23 August 2019, HKFP
2) Headline: "Hong Kong is on the 'brink of total breakdown' police admit after riot cops are filmed pepper-spraying a pregnant woman and throwing her to the ground" 12 November 2019, Daily Mail
3) Headline: "Hong Kong woman wardrobe malfunctions severely while tussling with riot police" 6 August 2019, Mothership
4) "During the violent clashes between protesters and riot police, an Associated Press photographer captured images of an officer pulling the black shirt of a female protester over her head. He continued to yank on her top until it was ripped off and her bare upper body and bra were exposed." 22 October 2019, Taiwan News
5) "A Hong Kong teenager who claims she was gang-raped in a police station in a report filed by her lawyer in October, had an abortion on Friday (Nov 10), but police say their investigations do not match the allegations....A picture showing a police officer outside a medical ward has been circulated widely online since Friday. The accompanying post claimed a 16-year-old teenage girl who had been arrested had aborted her baby in Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Yau Ma Tei that day... 13 November 2019, today online.com
Of such concern were the number and types of allegations made against HKPF officers that Amnesty International even compiled and wrote its own report on the matter, released 20 December, 2019.
While there is still no prospect of an independent commission of inquiry into HKPF and the execution of its work in the SAR, and there is ongoing resistance to such by the CE, the prospect for women protesters in HK still looks bad.
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Perhaps one way to gain an insight into the way women are viewed in mainland China is to watch a movie about them - in particular a documentary released this year about the "leftover women" (see the trailer below, search YouTube for the longer version). This is a derogatory reference to educated, cosmopolitan women who are not married and settled by the time they reach their mid-twenties.
Of course given the disregard for women of intellect, it would be too much to expect women with any kind of political leaning to fare much better.
As I write this blog we have just passed the anniversary of the death of activist Lin Zhao (Chinese:林昭; January 23, 1932 – April 29, 1968), born Peng Lingzhao (彭令昭), who was a prominent dissident in Mainland China 50 years ago. She was imprisoned and later executed by firing squad by the People's Republic of China during the Cultural Revolution for her criticism of Mao Zedong's policies. She is widely considered to be a martyr and exemplar for Chinese and other Christians.
The question is whether the rights of women have improved under CCP rule or not?
In July 2018, Liu Xia, the wife of China's jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, left China to lead a life in exile. This came after spending no less than eight years under house arrest, without any charge against her. It followed the death of her husband while in government custody on charges of inciting subversion of state power after he helped write a manifesto calling for political and economic liberalization.
In 2019 the Disney movie 'Mulan' that was meant to celebrate the life and sacrifice of a brave young Chinese woman sparked a firestorm of controversy after its star, Crystal Yifei Liu, stated her support for the HK police. In turn this lead to calls to boycott the movie and a Chinese state-backed misinformation campaign opposing the anti-government protests in HK, on platforms including Facebook and Twitter.
One Twitter account found by Variety magazine had only 14 tweets, all of which appeared on the same day that the #SupportMulan hashtag was pushed out by the English-language channel of China’s state broadcaster CCTV, alongside a slogan in traditional Chinese characters: “Defend justice, support Mulan.”
“A malicious group of people with vested interests is making calls for boycotting a movie that celebrates the life and sacrifice of the brave woman,” the state broadcaster said in English to kick off the Twitter campaign, which is clearly directed at an international audience, since Twitter is blocked in China itself. “She is an inspiration for girls worldwide….Show your support with #SupportMulan. Girls need Mulan! World [sic] needs Mulan!” The channel and its social media presence is strictly overseen by the ruling CCP (see our blogs on CCP censorship and the information war).
“The vicious attack on Liu Yifei and the mindless call to boycott the ‘Mulan’ remake is nothing short of an attempt to silence certain voices and to drag Hong Kong into an abyss,” the People’s Daily wrote in an English-language statement posted to Twitter and Facebook. It did not mention the irony of the Communist Chinese government speaking up in defense of an American entertainment giant in the midst of the two countries’ trade war.
Suspicious accounts on social media portraying HK protesters as “thugs” and “terrorists” who “just want to beat people under the pretext of democracy” have frequently been posted under the guise of being fans of Liu and “Mulan.” In their posts, Liu’s Mulan has become a symbol of China’s strength and willingness to defend its territorial claims and political system.
A commonly tweeted image zooms in on Disney’s new film poster, highlighting the Chinese character for “loyalty” engraved on Mulan’s sword, which is a combination of the characters for “heart” and “middle,” as in “Middle Kingdom” (see our blog on Chinese nationalism).
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Both the oppression and exploitation of women in Hong Kong and on the mainland continue unabated.
Perhaps it is the spirit of women like Lu Xia or Lin Zhao who inspire young women to join the front line of recent protests in HK. Inspiring young people elsewhere, such as Greta Thunberg add determination. It could also be that the matters at the heart of the unrest are too important to just sit idle and do nothing. After all, even lady liberty is under attack! Women have a right to self-determination and want a say in politics.
On 20 April 2020, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, and Gabriela Ramos, OECD Chief of Staff and Sherpa to the G20, convened and chaired the Women Leaders Virtual Roundtable on COVID-19 and the Future to address the disproportionately negative impact the COVID-19 pandemic has on women and girls, and to identify and prioritize policy measures that facilitate a more gender-inclusive recovery path.
The women leaders agreed that ensuring gender equality and women’s rights is essential to getting through this pandemic together, to recovering faster and building a better future. They urged governments and all stakeholders to put women and girls at the centre of their efforts and place women’s leadership and contributions at the heart of the COVID-19 response, resilience, and recovery efforts.
In the communique released after the roundtable discussion Gabriela Ramos said:
“In an unequal world, a health crisis like the one we face today hurts women disproportionately. Women take on the majority of care work, both paid and unpaid, making up 70% of the healthcare workforce globally, half of doctors and 95% of long-term care workforces across the OECD. They are risking their lives, yet their pay, status, social recognition and visibility are limited. Furthermore, women are potentially over-exposed in this economic fallout as they are overrepresented in informal economy without adequate social protection. Essentially, we face two options as we respond to this crisis: we can either let these disproportionate impacts exacerbate existing inequalities, or we can make sure to embed a strong gender lens in response and recovery efforts to emerge stronger – and our choice is obvious. The post Covid-19 world will never be the same, and it is up to all of us to ensure that women fare better.”
In a world dominated by male-dominated economic and political systems we have come to the current global crises.
Many have said that Covid-19 has brought about a paradigm shift in world affairs, and there are some powerful changes taking shape (see our blog on this paradigm shift). When people reconnect with Mother Earth, and grasp the interdependence of all living things on the planet we may reach a new state of 'balance' and harmony with other people and things. Women, with their greater sense of empathy, and broader social skills are well-placed to be leaders.
Very loosely, the Chinese concepts of yin and yang relate to “dark and light,” “female and male,” and “soft and hard.” These notions, with their deeply-rooted gender connotations, recognize the necessity of interplay between these different forces in generating and carrying forward the world. Chinese thinkers generally see the opposing qualities of yin and yang as integral parts of a whole that complement one another.
Wethepeopleofhk.com remain of the position that a referendum should be used to determine the will of the HK people, as we can see the folly of leaving governance to politicians who act without a mandate. In 2017, Chris Patten, the last governor of HK before the handover, suggested that HK ought to have had a referendum on the SAR's sovereignty. Too late now!
Again we call for the will of HK people to be measured, noted and acted upon.
Come September's Legislative Council elections in HK there are bound to be many women pro-democracy candidates deserving of support and your vote. There is a physical and psychological cost to involvement in the current social movement and women certainly deserve respect for doing their part to depose injustice in HK and elsewhere.