As Chinese official media laud the progress of the most successful women in public life ahead of International Women's Day on Thursday, women from disadvantaged groups in the world's most populous nation still live with the daily threat of violence, according to a new report.
Women who inhabit the margins of Chinese society, such as petitioners and trafficked sex workers, are at the greatest risk, with around one-third of them reporting they were first attacked under the age of 18, the China Human Rights Defenders group said in a report published this month.
Yang Lili of the China Information Center in Washington, D.C. said the report shows that China still lags behind many countries when it comes to protecting women against violence under the terms of the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Violence Against Women (CEDAW), to which Beijing is a signatory.
Nearly 42 percent of the women surveyed reported finding themselves in "violent surroundings," some for a few days, others for several years.
Such women, Yang said, were particularly vulnerable as a result of socio-political changes taking place during the last few decades of China's breakneck economic development.
"In an authoritarian society like China's, if you happen to be in the wrong place politically, you will automatically lose other rights that you might reasonably expect to enjoy under the law," Yang said.
Abuses by police
The report cited numerous cases of women selling sex becoming targets of violence at the hands of police and other law-enforcement officials.
"The implementation of public supervision laws is in the hands of the organizations they are meant to regulate," Yang said. "They will tell all sorts of lies to avoid legal punishment."
Sex workers reported being "beaten and kicked," "told to strip-dance," and even being raped by police officers.
Yang said the number of women working in the sex trade has risen sharply since economic reforms began in 1979, leading to calls at this year's National People's Congress (NPC) for the sex trade to be legalized and properly regulated, in order to protect female sex workers from such attacks.
"These women are subjected to all manner of violence at the hands of those in power or criminal gangs, as well as to discrimination by society as a whole," she said.
The report conducted interviews with "marginalized women," whom it defined as those who lack regular protective mechanisms like a work unit, a family, or social status.
An overwhelming 75 percent reported being the victims of violent attack, while 22 percent said they had been sexually violated. Around seven percent reported "other" forms of violence, which included medicalized violence like forced abortion and sterilization.
"Nowadays, you're only allowed one child ... but if your first child is a girl, then you want to keep up the status in your family [with a son]," said Zhang Yuhong, a former resident of the eastern city of Qingdao who fled to the U.S. after being forced to have an abortion of her second pregnancy.
"Everyone wants to have a boy as well, but the government's family planning policies won't allow it."
"What happens to women is very cruel; they drag you physically right off to the hospital [for an abortion]."
Failure to protect
Beijing-based rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan said marginalized women and rural women in China are in a very worrying situation.
Even though China has legislation protecting women, law enforcement and judicial agencies in practice totally fail to protect this vulnerable group, Liu said.
"The All-China Women's Federation is doing a lot of this kind of work already," he said. "But they are an organization that is under the aegis of the Communist Party, and they have no legal power to enforce the law."
"They are still mostly reliant on the judicial agencies to do this, and they basically don't particularly care about this serious damage that this sort of violence is doing."
The CHRD-backed report conducted in-depth interviews with 82 women and girls from Wuhan, Yunnan, Tianjin, Hangzhou, Beijing, Henan, Hebei,and Guangxi.
They ranged in age from 14-54, and their average age was 31.
Reported by Tang Qiwei for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.