A recent social survey by a Chinese group campaigning for the right of women to be single mothers found that nearly 87 percent of respondents supported the idea of a single woman having a child outside a relationship, while 76 percent were in favor of same-sex couples becoming parents.
But activists say the reality in China is still very different, with both government policy and social attitudes still supporting heterosexual relationships as the most appropriate environment for raising children. RFA's Mandarin Service recently spoke to two women's rights campaigners about the issue.
China-based women's rights campaigner Feng Yuan:
According to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, control of their own fertility is a very important right for women, and forms a crucial part of women's control over their own bodies. That's why female fertility cannot be dependent on marriage. In this context, the fertility of single women is an extremely important issue.
The Chinese population is ageing, which will put growing pressure on society and on the economy, which is why the one child policy has been relaxed into a two-child policy. Rising levels of education among women mean that fewer and fewer of them want to have large families, and yet the government wants the population to expand. So of course they shouldn't be limiting the aspirations of those women who want to have children.
This is a win-win situation, which both supports the fundamental rights of women and has a positive impact in terms of national social development.
There are different views among the general public, depending on who we mean by the public. A lot of older people think that women are happier if they have children, especially when they get older, because they feel more satisfaction with their lives. So a lot of older people feel that their daughters, who perhaps haven't been able to find a suitable partner, should be able to have a child, even if they are not married.
Of course, some older people also worry that having children outside marriage might be much harder for the woman, that her life will be adversely affected. So there isn't a unified view on this.
But the majority of people are moving with the times, respecting the choices of individuals, and won't try to impose their opinions on other people's lives.
This is an important opportunity to advance human rights education, so that everyone understands that the decision whether or not to have children should lie with the individual.
Zhang Jing, founder and executive director of the U.S.-based group Women’s Rights in China:
I think China has a long way to go to catch up with international standards when it comes to women having children on their own, or single parents [generally]. The situation is already very unfair because men can have sex with a woman and then ask her to get an abortion. There's no government management of abortions in China, but they do have a say in who gets to give birth.
Not every woman who gets pregnant will want to have a termination, but if they don't, trying to actually have the baby will be ten times more difficult. To start with, the baby wouldn't have a household registration document, and would be subject to discrimination. Also, there is far too little social support for single mothers, that's to say very little from society and basically zero from the government.
As a woman, of course I would welcome a complete relaxation of controls, to allow all unmarried women complete autonomy and the right to control their own fertility. Women should be the ones who decide these things, because they are the ones with the wombs.
This is an unstoppable social trend, and ending controls would have benefits for the whole of society. We already know that there is a low birth rate in China, so they should give single women more freedom to have children.
Reported by Han Qing for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.