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China’s draft law to protect women’s rights

  • IASbaba
  • December 25, 2021
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WOMEN/ INTERNATIONAL

  • GS-2: International events

China’s draft law to protect women’s rights

Context: Amid a growing number of sexual harassment and domestic violence cases, China is set to update and strengthen its nearly three-decade-old law to protect women’s rights both at the workplace and at home.

  • China’s top legislative body — the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) — began to review a draft amendment to the ‘Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Women’.

What does the draft amendment say about women’s rights in the workplace?

  • Under the proposal, employers are banned from stating gender preferences in job ads or asking female applicants about their marital and pregnancy status. 
  • Employers are also prohibited from firing or reducing a woman’s salary if she chooses to get married or have a baby.
  • While previous laws simply stated that sexual harassment against women was prohibited, the proposal lays down a clear definition of what qualifies as ‘sexual harassment’. 
    • This includes subjecting women to verbal expressions with sexual connotations or any other inappropriate sexual behaviour without their consent, Reuters reported. 
  • The draft also prohibits offering benefits in exchange for sex.

What about women’s rights at home?

  • Extending to the domestic sphere, the new regulations also clarify the duties of both the husband and the wife within the traditional family structure. 
  • In case of divorce, women have the right to ask for compensation if they believe they have been shouldering more duties at home, the draft states.
  • This comes after a court in Beijing granted a housewife a 50,000 yuan payout from her husband for five years of unpaid labour. The landmark case sparked a nationwide debate on the value of domestic work earlier this year.
  • The draft also says that harassing women under the guise of being in a relationship, or after a relationship ends will be prohibited. 
  • It also bans practices that could be mentally manipulative — this includes ‘female morality classes’, where women are ‘brainwashed’ into believing that they are inferior to their partners.

Why now?

  • In recent years, China has been widely criticised for doing little to protect sexual harassment survivors and attempting to suppress the #MeToo movement in its nascent stages. 
  • The country has witnessed a growing debate on crimes against women as more domestic violence and sexual harassment cases have been reported in recent years.
  • China’s #MeToo movement began in 2018, when a former student of Shanghai University of Finance and Economics accused her professor of sexually harassing her. He was fired from the university, following which several other women were encouraged to come forward with their complaints.
  • Most recently, Chinese tennis pro-Peng Shuai’s sparked a storm on social media after she alleged that she was forced into a sexual relationship by China’s former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli, 75, after his retirement from power in 2017. 
    • Soon after she shared her explosive allegation on China’s social media forum WeChat, she went missing. After her sudden disappearance caused international furore, she reappeared in a few offline media videos. However, Zhang got away unscathed.
  • Meanwhile, gender-based discrimination in the workplace is rampant across China. Many women have long faced discrimination based on their marital status. 
  • According to a report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW), gender gap, the lack of anti-discrimination laws and the two child policy were behind this phenomenon.
  • Also, many Chinese companies are reluctant to pay salaries during maternity leave. As per Chinese law, women are entitled to about 98 days of maternity leave. Employers are mandated to pay maternity insurance to ensure that women receive a monthly allowance from the government fund if they give birth.

Conclusion

  • The draft proposal was presented before China’s top legislative body on Monday for deliberation. The discussion is expected to continue until at least Friday, following which the draft will be voted upon.

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