Posts tagged: civil society

Heaven Help the Working Girl: The Impact of the Law on Women in China

By , January 28, 2015
Dr. Leta Hong Fincher, author of Leftover Women

Dr. Leta Hong Fincher, author of Leftover Women

Sure women might not demand that their names be on the deed even after giving money to purchase the house, but does that matter in the case of divorce in China?  As Dr. Leta Hong Fincher points out in  Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China, you bet that matters.  Changes in the law in 2011 – requiring physical proof of monetary contribution – has diminished women’s ability to claim their rightful part of the marital property in the case of divorce.  By why this change?  And why now?  Fincher expounds upon these questions in Part 2 of her interview with China Law & Policy and informs us why the rest of the world needs to wake up and  care about what is happening to women in China.

Read the transcript below of Part 2 of this two-part series or click the media player to listen to the podcast.

Length: 10:15 minutes

For Part 1 of this interview, please click here.

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EL: To switch gears a bit, you mention in your book some of the laws that impact this. You discuss the Supreme

Who gets the ugly couch in the case of divorce?

Who gets the ugly couch in the case of divorce?

[People’s] Court 2011 Interpretation of China’s Marriage Law. You basically argue that this Interpretation – which in cases of divorce only allocates property to those whose name is on the deed absent some exceptions – denies women even more rights in the property market. Can you give a little bit more background on this Interpretation? Also, do you have any background on what caused the Supreme People’s Court to issue this Interpretation?

LHF: Effectively the Marriage Law was originally a real cornerstone of the Communist Revolution and it gave women rights to property, the right to divorce, all sorts of new rights. Over the years actually women’s rights to common marital property were strengthened. But in 2011, with this new judicial interpretation, effectively if the woman is unable to prove through legal, financial receipts that she put in a certain amount of money toward buying the home, she’s not entitled to that home in the event of a divorce. None of the women that I interviewed kept any receipts of their financial contribution to the homes. Moreover, money is fungible. So there many ways in which women’s money – if they are working women working for pay – there are many ways in which their pay is supporting the household. The man’s money may be going directly to paying off the mortgage so there is a receipt for the man’s contribution to the home.

This law is really detrimental to women’s property rights. Now, what I have heard anecdotally – I wasn’t specifically researching why the court issued this new judicial interpretation – but what I’ve heard anecdotally from some lawyers is that the Court was deluged with letters from parents of men who wanted to protect their sons when they got married. They didn’t want the wives of their sons to have any share in the home because the parents tend to put up so much money to buying these homes for their own sons. Because of China’s rapidly rising divorce rate, I’ve also heard that the Court simply wanted to simplify divorce rulings; just get these cases through the court fast.

But it has been an incredibly controversial interpretation and a lot of women across China are very upset about it but there’s no organized movement to protest it because organizing and protesting is so difficult [in China].

gender_balanceEL: I guess in looking at the Supreme Peoples Court interpretation and how that has a negative impact on women, one of the things though that has happened recently is that China has had its first gender discrimination lawsuit in employment. That seems like a positive development in terms of womens rights. So how do you gel the fact that in a country where the court can reject cases, so they allowed obviously this case to be heard and even though it settled, they did allow it and its been published in the newspaper. How do you gel that kind of a development with the leftover women and the 2011 Marriage Law Interpretation?

LHF: Well, Chinese society is certainly not static and there are some legal success. That gender discrimination lawsuit was very important and it set an important precedent. But the fact is that there are so many other systemic ways in which women’s rights and gains are being reversed in the past two decades. One successful lawsuit here or there doesn’t fundamentally change the situation for the vast majority of women. Most notably there is still no specific law on domestic violence. Feminist lawyers and activist had been lobbying for over a decade to pass a law. And they’ve drafted the language, it’s all ready, but it simply hasn’t been passed.

EL: To go back to that because your book ends where you do discuss some individuals that are trying to change things a little bit, incrementally, but I have to admit it didnt seem like there was going to be a lot of change from them even though theyre brave in what they are doing. It sounds like, based on what you say you dont see a lot of change happening soon. Is that correct? Or if you do see any change, where do you see it coming from?

LHF: I certainly don’t see change coming from an organized nationwide women’s rights movement simply because

Will there be an organized and vocal  women's rights movement in China?

Will there be an organized and vocal women’s rights movement in China?

the political atmosphere is too severely oppressive for that to happen. But what does give me hope is that individual women can make choices in their own lives to avoid getting trapped in a very discriminatory system.

For example, there are women in their late 20s who have told me that they refuse to ever get married because marriage is a bad institution for women in China. They see this as an empowering choice. That doesn’t mean that they’re never going to have a lover or a boyfriend or maybe they’re lesbian. But there are individual ways in which women can act to empower themselves. But once they enter the institution of marriage it is very, very difficult. Marriage as an institution doesn’t protect women’s rights.

Contrary to the myths that are spread by the propaganda of the state media that single women in China are extremely miserable and lonely, I see the reverse. Single women are the ones who tend to do better. They don’t have husbands holding them back, telling them what to do; they have a lot more freedom. Women who are married, if there is any problem at all in the marriage, they’re extraordinarily vulnerable.

EL: And just in closing, youre book is a fascinating book and I do recommend for everybody to read, especially if they really want to understand China today and women in China today. But why do you think the rest of the world should be paying attention to this issue if at all?

"Working women are a great revolutionary force"

“Working women are a great revolutionary force”

LHF: Well the thing is that, let’s put aside the issue of fair treatment for women. Obviously women are being treated unfairly in China and are being discriminated against. But, as an economic issue, it’s very important. China’s obviously becoming increasingly a driver of global economic growth. The fact that women are basically being told by the government that they should stop working so hard and return to the home is going to end up having very damaging long-term economic consequences for China.

There’s already a declining labor force participation among women, particularly in the cities according to the latest census results; there’s a dramatically widening gender income gap. These are the most talented women in the country and if you’re telling the most talented female workers in China – it’s okay just leave the workforce – that’s going to hurt China’s economy. Of course if China’s economic development is hurt, if it is destabilizing, that’s going to affect the rest of the world. So it is something the rest of the world should be interested in.

EL: I want to thank you again for spending time with China Law & Policy. Just so our readers know, Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China, that can be purchased at amazon.com. Thank you again.

LHF: Thanks so much for having me.

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For Part 1 of this interview, please click here.

What’s Up with LGBT Rights in China?

By , November 15, 2012

Meg Davis, Executive Director of Asia Catalyst Introduces the Speakers
Photo by Robert Burnett, Jr.
www.rburnettjr.com

Last week, the day after the United States elected its first openly gay Senator and more states extended the right to marry to gay couples, Asia Catalyst and Fordham Law School’s Leitner Center co-hosted a fascinating talk about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights in China entitled “China’s Comrades.”

Featuring two on the ground LGBT activists – Sam Zhao (co-founder of China’s only lesbian magazine) and Dan Zhou (a Shanghai lawyer who has taken on some hard-hitting LGBT rights cases) – and John Balzano, a law professor and China expert who provided a more macro view of the movement, the talk broke down some common assumptions about China and the development of individual rights.

Zhou started his talk stating that this discussion was a “queer event” – although talks about Chinese legal development are common, Zhou noted that rarely if ever do these talks discuss LGBT rights development.  But while true, what was perhaps most queer about the talk was learning of the Chinese government’s response to the LGBT rights movement.  Usually the narrative at many of these rights development talks are the same – an authoritarian government trampling over individual rights, fearful that its monopoly on power will be destroyed by such nascent rights movements.

But for LGBT rights, the story seems to be different.  Zhao made a joke about how in

Sam Zhao, speaking at “China’s Comrades”
Photo by Robert Burnett, Jr.
www.rburnettjr.com

1996, a friend called her, excitedly telling her to return to Beijing because there was going to be a “big” lesbian party – eight lesbians were getting together.  Fast forward a little over a decade and in 2008, Zhao helped organize a two-day lesbian independent film festival where 600 lesbians attended.

What was interesting about Zhao’s story was the fact that the Chinese government even allowed the film festival, and not because it necessarily has an anti-gay bias.  Usually, when movements get too large, the Chinese government sees the movement – be it LGBT rights activists organizing a film festival, rural villagers decrying the taking of their lands, or factory workers protesting inhuman working conditions – as an alternative source of power and threat to its rule – events are broken up and email listserves are shut down.

But both Zhao and Zhou discussed the success they have had in creating an LGBT community throughout China, with much of this success a result of the internet.  Even Balzano noted that while it is true that when movements in China get too large, too overt or too public, the government seeks to crack down, the LGBT movement thus far has not faced the same kinds of pressure.

Audience listens during China’s Comrades
Photo by Robert Burnett, Jr.
www.rburnettjr.com

Zhou did point out that the LGBT rights movement is not completely immune.  In 2012, some LGBT rights bloggers held a successful conference in a southern city that many activists attended.  When they tried to re-create the event in Beijing, the government put a stop to it.  But according to Zhao, when the activists asked the Beijing government if the reason was because the event was about LGBT rights, the government said no.  According to the authorities, the basis for denying the activists their conference was because it bordered upon a “mass incident” which the law forbids.

But not everything is rosy for LGBT individuals in China.  While Balzano remarked that there is no law in China that is overtly discriminatory toward the community, the law is still used at times to harass LGBT individuals.  Zhao confirmed this, noting the difficulty in obtaining the proper government approvals for her lesbian film festival because many officials equated lesbian film with pornography.

Zhou also commented that while there is no law that governs sexual relations in a

Photo by Robert Burnett, Jr.
www.rburnettjr.com

private place, what is still up for debate, at least with some government officials and courts, is what is private.  There have been cases where a hotel room is considered public or a bedroom in an apartment that serves as a business office during the day.  Zhou also discussed the prosecution of one of his clients – a gay D.J. who was part of a party in a gay nightclub.  He was taken in for “lewd” behavior.

Finally, although only briefly touched upon in the talk but much more fully fleshed out in the readings that Asia Catalyst and the Leitner Center diligently selected (see “Resources” list below) is the societal pressure that all Chinese face but is more acute in the LGBT community – parental pressure for a heterosexual marriage and a grandchild.  All of the reading went into depth on this issue, noting that traditionally in China, homosexual conduct has been tolerated so long as that behavior is more “on the side” of a heterosexual marriage that produces children (in this regard, Balzano’s article made an important distinction between traditional acceptance of homosexual behavior and not necessarily homosexual identity).  This pressure and to some degree behavior is still very much present in the LGBT community in China (the Kam article interviewed a number of Shanghai lesbians to ascertain how they deal with the heterosexual marriage issue).

Photo by Robert Burnett, Jr.
www.rburnettjr.com

Although China’s LGBT community is still in greater need of protection, especially since vague laws are arbitrarily used to harass some individuals, its movement appears to be on more solid footing than other rights groups.  By the end of the talk, Zhou’s initial remark – that it is queer that discussions of LGBT rights rarely happen – made one wonder, why isn’t Western China watchers especially those who focus on and seek to promote civil society development, examining China’s LGBT movement more.  The LGBT rights movement is an outlier in the normal course of civil society development in China.  What is it that allows it right now to be a bit more immune to traditional government pressure?  And is there anything other movements can learn from the LGBT rights movement?  China’s Comrades proved that more a deeper understanding of the LGBT movement are necessary.

Resources:

John C. Balzano, Toward a Gay-Friendly China?  Legal Implications of Transition for Gays and Lesbians, 16 Tul. J. L. & Sexuality (2007).

Lucetta Kam, Opening up Marriage: Married Lalas in Shanghai, in As Normal as Possible: Negotiating Sexuality and Gender in Mainland China and Hong Kong (Yau China ed., 2010; Hong Kong University Press).

Holning Lau, Grounding Conversations on Sexuality and Asian Law, 44 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 773 (2011).

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If you are interested in learning more about Asia Catalyst, its events or how you can support this on-the-ground organization, please visit its website here.  For its Fifth Anniversary Campaign, Asia Catalyst’s Board of Directors has generously offered to match all individual gifts donated in 2012 (up to $8,000).  All donations are tax deductible.

 

 

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