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Gender equality hits mainstream
(China Daily)
Updated: 2005-03-03 01:37

NEW YORK: China has made formidable efforts to move women into the mainstream of society, relieve poverty among them, and protect their human rights and increase educational opportunities for girls, experts say.

"All this work has helped increase women's overall participation in economic and social development in China," Zhao Shaohua, vice-president of the National Working Committee on Women and Children with the State Council of China (NWCWC), said in an interview with China Daily.

As head of the Chinese official delegation to the 49th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women , Zhao is joining other top women leaders from all over the world to look back and evaluate how women have done in terms of gender equality and development. The conference began on Monday in New York.

According to the UN, the programme for the commission's annual session is "focusing on national-level implementation through interactive dialogue and the exchange of good practices."

The two-week session has attracted national delegations and several thousand women representing UN accredited, non-government organizations from across the globe, who will air their views in forums and side events.

"The session offers us an opportunity to examine how far we have gone towards the goals set by the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995," Zhao said.

It will also analyze how much has been completed from the 23rd special session of the General Assembly in 2000, when a document entitled "Women 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the 21st Century was agreed upon, according to Zhao.

Without doubt, Chinese women have made some major progress towards the stated goals, Zhao said.

"The Chinese Government and legislative organs at different levels have been making great efforts to integrate gender equality and gender perspective into all stages of legislation and decision-making processes, including drafting, formulating, implementing and reviewing all the related laws, regulations, policies, plans and programmes," Zhao said.

"What is especially noteworthy is the relatively big strides the country has taken to push for gender equality in legal spheres," said Liu Bohong, a senior researcher with the Women Studies Institute of China.

"We believe that laws are most effective and fundamental in helping ensure and safeguard women's rights and interests," Zhao said.

According to Zhao, since 1998, the National People's Congress (NPC) has formulated and revised a series of laws to highlight legal guarantees on the rights of women and girls in adoption, marriage, employment and on leasing land in rural areas.

These include Adoption Law, the Law on Preventing Minors from Crimes, Marriage Law, Law on Population and Family Planning, Trade Union Law, and the Law on Contracted Land Leasing in Rural Areas.

The report singles out the Law on Contracted Land Leasing in Rural Areas and Marriage Law as the most important.

The Law on Contracted Land Leasing in Rural Areas emphasizes that women and men are equally entitled to land resources.

The report quotes Article 6 of this law as stipulating: "Women shall enjoy equal rights to men in the leasing of contracted land in rural areas.

"In the leasing process, women's legal rights and interests should be protected. Women's rights to contract and manage the land shall not be deprived or infringed upon by any organizations or individuals."

Meanwhile, "the revised Marriage Law has become more specifically targeted and more enforceable in such areas as the marriage system, matrimonial property, domestic violence, relationships among family members and divorce," the report states.

The report emphasized that "the Law on the Protection of Women's Rights and Interests is the basic law in China to protect women's rights."

And to further eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and promote gender equality, the National People's Congress - China's top legislature - is working on revising the Law on the Protection of Women's Rights and Interests to further ensure women's rights.

The first draft for revision is expected to come out in April, Zhao said.

"Today, safeguarding the rights of women is one of the most common phrases in the lives of the ordinary people," Liu said.

For example, it has set up the system of women leaders to serve as jurors in courts and the system of legal supervisors for labour protection. At present, the system of legal supervisors for labour protection has been established in 29 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, with more than 2,300 woman leaders acting as legal supervisors for labour protection, Zhao said.

According to the NWCWC's report, 23 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities and over 300 prefectures and cities have established various forms of agencies to co-ordinate efforts to provide assistance and protection for women and children and help guarantee their rights and interests.

Legal assistance is available for women who seek judicial support to protect their rights. At present, China has had more than 9,000 legal service agencies such as legal consulting centres and legal assistance centres for women and children, Zhao said.

"It is especially heartening that we've seen great progress made as far as efforts to stop domestic violence is concerned," Liu said.

Ten years ago, openly discussing the existence of domestic violence in China would be a taboo, she explained.

As an ancient Chinese saying goes, even the most incorruptible official could not deal with matters that took place in the home.

Hence, some people in the legal sector suggested domestic violence remains a private family matter without the need for public intervention, Liu explained.

Even researchers on women issues did not take the problem seriously, with some believing wife beating was too tiny a matter to discuss in China.

However, today, domestic violence has been recognized as a violation of women's human rights that the government and society must work together to stop.

In many cities, local judicial departments and the police have begun to co-operate with women's federations in programmes to intervene and battle domestic violence.

According to NWCWC reports, nearly 2,000 courts and collegiate bench panels have been established within the local judicial system to deal with cases concerning women's rights. More than 10,000 women leaders have been invited as special jurors.

The report cites the Hanyang District Court of Wuhan as an example. The court established a "collegiate bench panel for women," which specializes in trying cases of domestic violence against women.

Although China doesn't have a special national law on domestic violence, there are appropriate clauses in related laws.

The revised Marriage Law, which was passed by the top legislature in 2002, clearly outlaws domestic violence in its general provisions, the report stresses.

In January 1996, Changsha of Hunan Province produced China's first local regulation on domestic violence "Regulation on Preventing and Curbing Domestic Violence."

At present, local regulations or related policies on the same issue have taken effect in 16 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities.

A decade ago during the Fourth UN World Conference on Women held in Beijing, the participating countries endorsed the Platform for Action that cited problems in a dozen areas of critical concern for the world to deal with.

These areas include women and poverty; education and training of women, women and health, violence against women, women and armed conflict, women and the economy, women in power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women, human rights of women, women and the media, women and the environment and the girl-child.

As far as China is concerned, the country has especially worked in areas of poverty alleviation and improvement of living environment among the rural women, Zhao said.

The country has brought poverty reduction among rural women into the national campaign of poverty alleviation and the national strategy of the development in western China.

In the past decade, more than 6 million women have received varied vocational training and 2.6 million women have been helped to start new careers and be re-employed, Zhao said.

Meanwhile, the living conditions of rural women have improved. The All-China Women's Federation, the largest national women's organization in China, started "Water Cellars for Mothers" five years ago to help alleviate poverty and health hazards in areas plagued by severe water shortages. A little more than half of the villages now use tap water.

(China Daily 03/03/2005 page5)

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