'Just A Symbolic Thing'

On International Women's Day, 2011, Chinese women were asked about their views on the annual event, which has more than a century of history, and on what it is like to be a woman in contemporary China.
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A coal miner cleans her face in east China's Anhui province, May 14, 2010.
A coal miner cleans her face in east China's Anhui province, May 14, 2010.
AFP China Xtra

Xi Mei, 26, lives with HIV. She was infected via a blood transfusion at the age of 17 or 18. She later founded a support group called the Ximei Mutual Help Group to help fellow HIV carriers in her impoverished rural hometown in Henan province:

"When I first got infected they accused me of having inappropriate relationships. They couldn't understand how someone so young could have contracted a disease like that. This was very painful for me at the time. I knew, now that I have this disease, that other people would fear me, and that I would never marry. But I was able to get by all right by myself, so I told myself that I wouldn't just collapse and give up."

Fujian-based blogger Fan Yanqiong was jailed after writing online about suspicions surrounding the death of local woman Yan Xiaoling, whose mother said she was gang-raped by local officials:

"From my point of view, International Women's Day is just a symbolic thing. In what way can it protect you? There is no dignity for women enshrined in law. What meaning does the Women's Protection Law and the All China Women's Federation have? They are meaningless, empty shells. Women shouldn't think they can rely on government departments to help them solve their problems."

Beijing-based rights lawyer Liu Wei said she has represented a number of cases in which women's rights have been violated, and has seen widespread contempt for women over many years in Chinese society. Clients have suffered beatings, torture, trafficking, harassment, rape, and coercive prostitution, while at the same time, society is being bombarded with images of independent women:

"The rights and interests of women haven't received protection in China. Women haven't the status with which to hold a civilized relationship to society at large. For example, this is a society without the rule of law, let alone democracy or freedom or civilization. How are the rights of women to be protected then? We haven't even built a basic functioning judicial system."

Retired university professor and campaigner for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown Ding Zilin said she has seen little improvement in the status of Chinese women since supreme leader Deng Xiaoping launched China's economic reforms three decades ago:

"I think that in today's society where money is everything, the status of women in the 21st century is actually lower than it was in the 1950s and 1960s. During my life, I have seen that women might be more courageous than men, and that the love of a mother for a child is possibly greater than that of a father for his child, because it is utterly without concern for the mother's personal safety."

Chen Enjuan is a petitioner from Shanghai who has no income and spends her time pursuing a complaint against local officials. She said International Women's Day holds little meaning for her:

"On March 8, International Women's Day, our neighborhood committee officials won't remember the women who aren't in work. We are a special group apart, who have no idea whether today is a festival or any other day. We can't go out and buy some nice things because it's Women's Day. The middle classes, the white-collar workers, maybe they would take it a bit more seriously. Maybe there'd be some activity at their workplace, or maybe their husband might bring them home a present for the occasion. But we won't be getting anything of the sort."





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