A major study by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that in most countries, between 30 percent and 60 percent of women had experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. “Violence against women by an intimate partner is a major contributor to the ill health of women” said the former director-general of WHO, Lee Jong-wook.
However, in China, we hardly hear about sexual violence or even if we do, we never see it in the news. For example, when a student at Beijing Film Academy accused the father of her head teacher of sexual violation, the public only found out through social media. At first, people on the internet criticized her teacher, but after some time, reports about the issue disappeared and nobody knew what happened to the girl and her teacher’s father. Similarly, the Hollywood #MeToo trend recently hit China. However, after several women spoke up for themselves, the hashtag seemed to lose popularity and was soon harmonized in Weibo, which means posts related to #MeToo were deleted or hidden from the public.
Additionally, when we tried to find statistics about sexual violence in China, we were surprised to find out there were only reports about sexual violence rate among young children, college students and women in workplace. We found research about the sexual violence rate among 17,966 college students in China and the results were self-evident. 35.1% of respondents said they had experienced gender-based sexual violence or sexual harassment. However, when we tried to find data about China high school students and sexual harassment, we could not find much information. I wanted to get more information about what students are experiencing at my age. Therefore, we conducted a survey and collected 70 responses from young women in China (predominately Shanghai), from grade 8 to after graduating from college, up to 3 years.
After having conversations with my classmates and friends, I found out most of the students did not know the exact definition of sexual violence and many of them had a misconception towards feminism. Many girls believed the main reason for sexual violence is their inappropriate clothing, which is a deeply entrenched opinion that came from their parents and grandparents. Thus, we asked six questions about sexual violence in the survey which are based on students’ daily experiences. We first asked whether they have ever felt psychologically or physically uncomfortable by the actions of a male, which reflects the frequency of being harassed by men. However, we did not directly ask participants if they had been sexually violated, because most of them would not understand the full definition, or felt embarrassed to answer “yes” (which is quite normal in China). 70% of the respondents have felt psychologically or physically uncomfortable at least once.
In order to gauge the sense of public responsibility, we asked participants their reaction to seeing someone being sexually assaulted in public. Surprisingly, around 15% would not help the woman and walk away because they think it is none of their businesses. This may result from a general lack of awareness from society, or China’s bystander problem. However, we are hopeful to say that nearly 85% said they would help. When we asked if they have ever cared about issues of sexual violence or sexism in their society, we found only 3% of them have never paid any attention, read news, or heard about sexual violence. This was in Fall of 2017, so things may have changed since then.
Only 13% of respondents believed that women have already gained gender equality today, and many also gave feedback in the ways they had experienced this gender inequality. Their answers were from various perspectives. In the professional life, women experience all kinds of discrimination, from dismissing pregnant female workers and promoting more men. As a result, there are not only more male employees in the companies, but most senior managers are all male. Additionally, charity is considered a female interest while politics is a male interest. In school, teachers think boys are more intelligent than girls and boys perform better in STEM. Even from a young age, girls are criticized for being too ambitious.
Participants also pointed out other stereotypes such as the acceptance of men getting married after 50 but women needing to get married before 30, or being viewed as "leftover women”. Anecdotally, I have heard more than one mother whose daughter just entered college asking friends to introduce “good” men for her daughter. These mothers wanted their daughters to get married right after graduation and were afraid their daughters could not find “good" men after graduation because the “good” ones would be taken already. Furthermore, many Chinese still believe women being a virgin or not as an important factor when evaluating females.
According to our survey, students were starting to experience physical discomfort and compromised situations at a young age. But, at the same time, very few of them are aware of what this may mean. Therefore, to help combat and even preempt this serious issue, young people should be educated sooner about sexual violence, especially since the age group we surveyed is a pivotal time to develop sexual resilience and confidence. Schools can provide not only sex education, but also sexual violation advice, starting from elementary school. The government can offer women of all ages self-defense courses, such as the Tai-Chi self-defense class Phoenix Risen and Yiji organized together in August 2017. The deeply entrenched traditions about gender are the root causes of gender inequality, while sexual violence stems from gender inequality. Though it is nearly impossible to eliminate the stereotypes among the elder generation, it is possible to make a difference among the new generation. In fact, we are changing. Mothers are the primary or sole earners for 40 percent of households with children under 18 today, compared with 11 percent in 1960; 6% of Chinese billionaires are successful self-made female entrepreneurs, compared with 2% in other countries. However, these changes are not enough; we still need to make changes. We should be aware of gender inequalities in our life and fight against them, one at a time.