Chinese authorities have closed the social media account of a prominent women's rights website, and prevented activists from engaging in public activities on and around International Women's Day.
The Feminist Voices account on microblogging platform Sina Weibo was blocked on Thursday evening, the website's U.S.-based founding editor Lü Pin said via her Twitter account.
"Feminist Voices' Weibo account ... was blocked in the evening of March 8th 2018," Lü wrote. "Sina told us they won’t reactivate it because we 'posted sensitive and illegal information'," she said, describing the site as the "largest feminist alternative media in China."
At the time of its suspension, Feminist Voices had more than 180,000 followers on Sina Weibo, according to Lü. The account was also shut down this time last year.
Many women who campaign against sexual harassment and gender discrimination in China have been directly targeted by the authorities.
The detention of five Chinese feminists detained ahead of International Women's Day 2015 as they planned a public campaign against sexual harassment on public transport prompted an international outcry.
Wu Rongrong, Li Tingting, Wei Tingting, Wang Man, and Zheng Churan were released "on bail" in 2015 after being detained for several weeks on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," and have faced restrictions on their freedom of movement since.
Zheng told RFA this week that she wasn't planning any form of campaign this year.
"It's pretty high-risk, so we won't be doing anything for the time being," she said. "Every now and then, they tell us that we should keep a low profile, the police say this."
"They don't spell it out ... but Feminist Voices' Weibo account is still unable to ... send out posts, and everything gets deleted from their WeChat account if they try to post banned items," she said.
"I don't think there's enough tolerance for dissenting feminist voices in our society," Zheng said.'
Rhetoric vs. reality
Guangdong-based women's rights activist Li Biyun said that while the official line on women's rights is that men and women are equal, it's a different story on the ground.
"China says that men and women are equal, but women lack any rights at all, in fact," Li said. "For example, when it comes to the allocation of land to rural residents, the rules dictate that men can take their share of land when they reach the age of 18, but women can only get hold of land unofficially."
"I tried to stand up for women's rights by standing for my district-level People's Congress, but the authorities said I was disrupting the election process," she said. "I have been sent to prison, and had threats to my personal safety, and they won't give me back my ID card."
"So, no, as a woman I don't think women have equality at all."
China's communist government has promoted gender equality, at least in theory, since it came to power in 1949, when it garnered broad popular support over its policies on educating women and ending repressive practices like foot-binding and forced marriage.
But campaigners say the reality today is very different, and that Chinese women now face habitual economic discrimination, harassment, and domestic violence.
When Beijing hosted the Fourth World Conference on Women 20 years ago, the conference laid down a long-term program of improvements to the rights and opportunities offered to women and girls around the world, with requirements for governments to report back to the United Nations on the changes.
The Beijing Declaration pledged to "ensure equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all women and girls."
But Beijing-based housing activist Ni Yulan said the authorities have failed to deliver those promises.
"The relevant covenants protecting women and children have basically never been implemented," Ni said. "Take me: I was locked up and beaten to a crippled state by them ... because I tried to stand up for the rights of evictees."
"There has been no let-up in the number of women who are victims of oppression, because there is no protection for the human rights of women," she said.
The crackdown comes as China's parliament gets ready to pass constitutional amendments that will allow President Xi Jinping to remain in his post indefinitely, by removing current two-term limits on the offices of president and vice-president.
Writing in the Washington Post's opinion section, sociologist Leta Hong Fincher said that for all its progressive rhetoric about "new era" socialism, Xi's rise to power has been fueled by a return to the traditional subjugation of Chinese women.
"In almost 70 years of Chinese Communist history, there has never been a single woman on the Politburo’s elite Standing Committee," Hong Fincher wrote. "China’s all-male rulers have decided that the systematic subjugation of women is essential to maintaining Communist Party survival."
"As this battle for party survival becomes even more intense, the crackdown on feminism and women’s rights — indeed, on all of civil society — is likely to intensify," she wrote.
International Women's Day is typically celebrated in the tightly controlled state media as a hard-earned "day off" for women, and as a "celebration" of women's appearance, rather than their achievements.
According to a selection of tweets published by the U.S.-based China Digital Times (CDT) website, China Daily newspaper ran a photo feature showing "female doctors and nurses" dressed in traditional Chinese cheong-sam robes, designed to emphasise Chinese ideals of feminine beauty, while the Global Times published photos of scantily clad
"Victoria's Secret angels" to mark the day.
State media reported on some women's rights protests elsewhere in the world, but was silent on the rights of Chinese women, CDT said.
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.