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Development of Women’s Rights in China Through A Hundred Years: From a Strong Sense of Political Responsibility to Increasingly Better Legal Protection
June 21,2022   By:CSHRS
Development of Women’s Rights in China Through A Hundred Years: From a Strong Sense of Political Responsibility to Increasingly Better Legal Protection
 
LIU Huawen*
 
Abstract: The founding of the Communist Party of China, especially the founding of PRC and the establishment of the socialist system, opened a new chapter in the development of the Chinese women’s cause. The Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Chinese government have a strong political will and a sense of political responsibility in realizing gender equality and protecting women’s rights. Over the past 100 years, under the leadership of the CPC, the status of Chinese women has been fundamentally changed in the political and legal sense, and a historic breakthrough has been achieved. The development of the Chinese women’s cause has overcome many difficulties. In particular, after the launch of the reform and opening-up, on the basis of economic development, social progress, and continuous promotion of the rule of law, a set of legal protection systems for comprehensive protection of women’s rights have gradually been formed. The concept of social gender has provided new perspectives and approaches for China’s legal studies, and the process of gender mainstreaming in China has continued to deepen. China follows the socialist path of women’s cause with Chinese characteristics and continues to strengthen the legal protection of women’s rights in China, thereby making important contributions to the development of women in the world.
 
Keywords: women’s rights · human rights protection · gender equality · gender mainstreaming
 
Pursuing gender equality and realizing women’s liberation is a distinct political position upheld by Marxism. In his letter Ludwig Kugelmann in December 1868, Marx wrote: “Anybody who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without the feminine ferment.”1 Chinese communists have upheld the Marxist view on women and made gender equality and women’s liberation one of the Communist Party of China’s founding missions. According to the results of the seventh national census, as of 00:00 on November 1, 2020, the 31 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities on the Chinese mainland registered 1,411,778,724 people, including service members on active duty, and 48.76 percent of them (688,438,768) were women.2 As women account for almost half of the total population, the development of their cause is an important part of the human rights cause in China.
 
In modern governance, politics and the law are highly consistent in their core values and essential functions, and the ruling party’s political commitment and policy orientation are usually manifested through legal values and judicial practices.3 After its founding, the CPC has been trying to substantiate its political position on realizing gender equality and women’s liberation through relevant policies and law. This paper will review the 100-year historical development of the CPC-led women’s rights movement with deep political imprints, and analyze the features, progress, and trends displayed in this process as the focus shifts from a strong political commitment to improved legal protection.
 
I. The Founding of the CPC: A New Starting Point for the Development of Women’s Rights in China
 
A. Historical turning point in women’s liberation movement 
 
The founding of the CPC on July 23, 1921, was an epoch-making event in Chinese history. It fundamentally changed the direction and course of the development of the Chinese nation in contemporary times and, with firm conviction and sound theories, pointed out the new direction and goals of the women’s liberation movement in China.
 
There are some human rights concepts in traditional Chinese culture that value and protect women, and women have indeed played an important role in promoting social and economic development, preserving national unity and social stability, and carrying on fine family virtues. On the other hand, the long-lasting feudal rule in old China before 1949 gave rise to a myriad of outmoded ideas that put men over women and placed excessive emphasis on women’s “virtues” such as obedience, chastity, and ignorance, as well as wretched women-demeaning customs such as foot-binding and concubinage. At that time, women were under a mountain of oppression imposed by religion, the political regime, clan authority, patriarchy, and the authority of the husband. Especially after the Opium War broke out, the invasion of Western powers further plunged the Chinese people, including women, into an abyss of unseen misery and despair.
 
At the end of the 19th century, the modern thought of women’s liberation emerged in China thanks to the initiation of a group of visionaries represented by Kang Youwei, Liang Qichao, Tan Citong, Yan Fu, and Sun Yat-sen. They put forth the idea of gender equality, promoted the prohibition of foot-binding, built girls’ schools, developed women’s newspapers, and cultivated the earliest female social activists. These people linked the women’s liberation movement with the cause of saving the nation from peril and awakened Chinese women to their rights. After the People’s Republic was founded, preeminent women such as Tang Qunying and Shen Peizhen waged a movement for women’s suffrage in the endeavor to seek equal political rights for men and women alike.
 
The introduction of the Marxist theory on women’s liberation provided new theoretical guidance for the women’s liberation movement in China. Guided by it, the patriotic intellectuals and young students, in whom the communist thought was growing, made explorations unlike those of the bourgeoisie for the securing of women’s rights, realizing gender equality, and promoting women’s social engagement around the May Fourth Movement.4 Li Dazhao, Mao Zedong, and others also attempted to adapt the Marxist theory on women’s cause to the practices of the women’s liberation movement in China. For instance, in November 1919, Mao Zedong wrote on the case in which Zhao Wuzhen, a girl in Changsha of Hunan province, killed herself in refusal of an arranged marriage. According to him, what the case revealed was the corrupt marriage system, the dark social system, the crippled will, and the absence of freedom in love.5
 
As soon as the CPC was founded in 1921, it took upon itself the mission of liberating women and realizing gender equality. It has led Chinese women in the fight for their rights, marking a new historical starting point in the protection of women’s rights in China. In November 1921, under the guidance of Chen Duxiu and Li Da, the Shanghai Chinese Women’s Federation formulated a declaration on the transformation of the federation as well as its program and charter, which conveyed the CPC’s fundamental position on the women’s movement. The program stated: for the reason of the equality of human rights, we advocate the rights for female workers and child laborers and fight against the inhumane treatment they suffer; for the reason that working men and women are of the same class, we support women in participating in all farmers’ and workers’ activities; for the reason of equal social obligations, we support women in joining men in all mass movements against warlords and plutocrats; for the reason of national survival, we must fight against the aggression by foreign imperialists; for the reason of the common interests of humanity, we call for uniting with all women in the rest of the world.6 The Declaration of Transformation of the Chinese Women’s Federation paid attention to working women and children and advocated gender equality, social justice, national interests, and international cooperation. The integration of women’s rights with the future of the nation and the mission of the times demonstrated the CPC’s view on women’s development in its early stage.
 
B. Holding high the banner of women’s liberation and development
 
The CPC has a clear-cut political character. From the Second to the Fifth CPC National Congress, motions on the women’s movement specified the Party’s leadership of the women’s movement, including the guiding thought, forces to rely on, the program, path and principles, and direction. When the second CPC National Congress was convened in Shanghai on July 16, 1922, there was a female representative — Xiang Jingyu — among the 12 participants. The Resolution on the Women’s Movement passed at this congress stated: The CPC believes that the liberation of women must be carried out in parallel with the liberation of labor as only when the proletariats gain political power can women be truly liberated. The current struggles for women are for the following purposes: (1) Helping women acquire universal suffrage and all political rights and freedom; (2) Protecting the interests of women workers and child laborers; and (3) Breaking the shackles of all feudal ethics, codes, and rites.7 The CPC’s first Resolution on the Women’s Movement, which upheld Marxism and suited China’s realities, was an overarching document of both realistic and historical significance.8
 
During the decades before the founding of the PRC, the CPC attached great importance to women’s work. Women were mobilized and organized, and an extensive united front was established over time with female workers and farmers as the mainstay in conjunction with women of all ethnic groups and social sectors. A mass women’s liberation movement swept the country that was closely connected with the Chinese revolution.
 
Under the CPC’s leadership, the First National Congress of Workers, Peasants, and Soldiers of the Chinese Soviet Republic in 1931 adopted the Program of the Constitution, the Land Law, and the Labor Law. They emphasized the thorough liberation of women, recognized the freedom of marriage and divorce, and stipulated that women were entitled to the same rights and interests as men in the political, economic, marital, cultural, and educational aspects. During the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-1945), the CPC released a series of marital policies in the anti-Japanese base area to reform the unreasonable family and marriage system and promoted monogamy and free marriage. These policies were reflected in the Program of Women’s Work formulated by the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee in September 1937, the Program of Governance in Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia Border Region During the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the Marriage Regulations in Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia Border Region issued in April 1939, the Program of Governance in the Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia Border Region issued in May 1941, and the Regulation on Marriage issued by the consultative council in Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia border region in 1943. During the War of Liberation, the CPC adopted the Chinese Program of Land Law in September 1947, which stipulated the unified and equal distribution of land among all the rural population irrespective of gender and age. In the liberated area, the trial and ruling of a lot of civil cases concerning the freedom of marriage gave a strong impetus to women’s liberation. These new laws and policies implemented in certain areas of China and certain periods under the CPC’s leadership represented revolutionary progress and active legal explorations. 
 
The women’s liberation movement during the new-democratic revolution was the initial outcome of adapting the Marxist theory of women’s liberation to the reality of the women’s movement in China. It was a valuable new practice and progress on protecting women’s rights given the historical conditions back then. When meeting with the tenth leading group of the All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF), Xi Jinping said, “Through various historical periods — be it a revolution, construction or reform — the CPC has always made great efforts to realize women’s liberation and development as well as gender equality; always regarded women as an important force pushing forward the Party’s and the people’s causes, and always put women’s work high on the agenda. The CPC has led our women’s movement to historical achievements and blazed a socialist path of women’s development with Chinese characteristics.”9
 
The CPC-led women’s liberation movement in the revolutionary period laid a solid foundation for the formation and evolution of the Chinese-style socialist path of women’s development after the founding of the PRC.
 
II. The Founding of the PRC: A New Chapter in the Development of Women’s Rights in China
 
A. A historical leap in the liberation of women
 
On October 1, 1949, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was founded. It was finally possible for Chinese women, under the leadership of the CPC, to end their history of being exploited, suppressed, and enslaved and to change their political, economic, social, and domestic position.
 
Before the founding of the PRC, the women’s liberation movement led by the bourgeoisie, despite meager progress against great difficulties, failed to fundamentally free women from their enslaved and suppressed position. During the Republic of China period, the evolution of the legal system improved the protection of women’s rights to some extent, but the improvement was mainly in cities, not in the countryside; and mainly on paper, not in practice.10 Women were not liberated in the full and real sense, and legal provisions and judicial practices discriminating against women continued to exist.11 For example, although the laws of the Republic of China no longer recognized concubines, they didn’t lay down explicit provisions prohibiting the act of taking concubines, and the phenomenon continued to exist. The Nanjing Government implemented the Civil Law of the Republic of China — On Kinship in May 1931, which included positive provisions such as “monogamy,” “gender equality,” and “freedom of marriage.” However, it also included negative provisions, such as parents as the legal representatives of their underage children had the right to approve or revoke their marriage.
 
After the founding of the PRC, the CPC continued to display a strong sense of political responsibility for protecting women’s rights. Based on summarizing the experience of the women’s liberation movement during the revolutionary period, it formulated policies and laws to protect various rights of all women across the country. Under its leadership, the women’s movement in China made substantial progress in breadth and depth, laying a solid foundation for them to become masters of the country and make a giant leap forward in their liberation.
 
B. Nascent legal system for the protection of women’s rights
 
Under the leadership of the CPC, the central people’s government, immediately after the founding of the PRC, enacted laws to ensure that women would enjoy equal rights as men in a wide range of areas, including politics, economy, culture, and education, society, and domestic life. A primary legal framework for protecting women’s rights was gradually established. 
 
Making a new marriage law with obvious new-democratic features to ensure women’s equal status in marital life was a significant step taken by China to facilitate women’s liberation. On April 13, 1950, the seventh meeting of the Committee of Central People’s Government adopted the New Marriage Law. The new law replaced the outdated marriage system that endorsed arranged or forced marriage, recognized men’s superiority over women, and neglected children’s interests with the new-democratic marriage system that upheld the freedom of marriage, monogamy, gender equality, and protection of women’s and children’s legal interests.12 The first law enacted by the PRC, the Marriage Law fundamentally negated the outmoded marriage system that had existed in China for thousands of years and abolished the horrible customs infringing upon women’s rights and interests, such as bigamy, taking concubines, having child brides, and interfering in the freedom of marriage of widows. For the first time in Chinese history, it endowed men and women with equal legal status, turning a new page in protecting women’s rights through the rule of law. That signified a profound reform of the thousand-year-long tradition of marriage and family life in China, manifested how much importance the CPC and the Chinese government attached to women’s liberation, and indicated the special attention paid by the PRC to protecting women’s rights from the outset of its development of the legal system. 
 
On September 21, 1949, the first Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) adopted a provisional constitution entitled the Common Program of the CPPCC, which stipulated that women shall be entitled to equal rights as men in all the political, economic, cultural, educational, domestic and social aspects; and that men and women shall enjoy freedom of marriage. Article 96 of the first Constitution enacted in 1954 provided that “women in the People’s Republic of China enjoy equal rights with men in all spheres of political, economic, cultural, social and domestic life. The state protects marriage, the family, and the mother and child.” The Constitution-confirmed gender equality and women’s rights were of great importance for promoting women’s liberation and were well ahead of the average women’s movement in the world. According to foreign statistics, before 1949, only 24 countries worldwide specifically mentioned the issue of gender equality in their constitutions.13
 
Special attention was paid to protecting women’s right to engage in political affairs. On September 21, 1949, 69 female representatives participated in the plenum of the first National Committee of CPPCC and discussed state affairs with the male representatives. Women began to play an important role in state administration. On February 11, 1953, the 22nd meeting of the Committee of the Central People’s Government adopted the Election Law for the National People’s Congress and Local People’s Congresses at All Levels, which granted women the equal right as men to elect and be elected. During the first grassroots election of deputies, more than 90 percent of women voted and 17 percent of the elected representatives at the grassroots level were women. When the first National People’s Congress (NPC) was held in September 1954, there were 147 female deputies, accounting for 15 percent of the total. When talking with a Yugoslavian women’s delegation in October 1956, Mao Zedong said: in China, the number of women participating in the work of the government or the NPC was very small. Although their rights are enshrined in the Constitution, great efforts have to be made to truly realize those rights… In the future, the percentage of female comrades participating in state affairs should at least be half-half that of male comrades, and it won’t be a bad thing if they make up a larger percentage.14 Among Western developed countries that emphasized suffrage for women, Britain didn’t have its first equality act until 1970, and French women had no right to vote and stand for election until the second half of the 20th century.15 This shows that the PRC was ahead of some Western countries in its political awareness and practice of protecting women’s right to participate in state affairs.
 
After the PRC was founded, the country made women’s work an integral part of social production and, through legal empowerment, created favorable conditions for women to equally participate in the administration of public affairs and economic and social development. Laws and regulations such as the Law on Land Reform and the Regulations on Labor Insurance expressly provided that women shall be entitled to equal social rights as men, including the distribution of land and treatment in labor insurance. In light of the situation that some workplaces refused to recruit pregnant women, the Human Resources Department of the Central People’s Government issued the Notice on Abolishing the Rule that Pregnant Women Shall Not be Recruited as Employees or Students on June 10, 1951. In the early 1950s, a high-profile land reform movement swept the Chinese countryside, whereby Chinese women, for the first time in history, became landowners through equal distribution of land. Supported by the central government, women took an active part in the economic recovery and socialist transformation and construction, and acquired social and economic independence in the process. By 1957, 70 percent of rural women participated in agricultural production and the number of urban female employees reached 3,286,000, an increase of 4.5 times compared with 1949.16
 
Another major campaign launched by the PRC toward women’s liberation was the nationwide reform to eliminate outdated customs, including the demeaning and humiliating practice of foot-binding and prostitution. Although efforts to prohibit foot-binding began at the end of the 19th century, it persisted in some areas after the PRC was founded. On July 15, 1950, the Administrative Council of the Central People’s Government issued the Order Prohibiting Foot-binding of Women, criticizing the practice as a symbol of suppression of women in the feudal society that was harmful to women’s health. On November 21, 1949, the second meeting of people from all walks of life of Beijing Municipality adopted the Resolution on Closing Brothels, following which Beijing shut down 237 brothels, provided help for 1,286 girls saved from them, and punished 421 brothel owners and operators in accordance with the law. The city also carried out collective education for the girls to remodel their minds, provided treatment for venereal diseases, and guided and helped them to lead a normal life, turning them into independent workers able to support themselves in the new society. With Beijing setting an example, cities, big and small, across the country, including Shanghai and Tianjin, also took steps to eliminate prostitution based on local conditions, and more than 10,000 women were saved and liberated in three years. China’s initiative to provide education and transform the lives of these women was recognized by the international community and provided experience and reference for many other countries.17
 
C. Establishment of women’s organizations and initial foreign exchanges 
 
On the eve of the founding of the PRC, the First National Congress of Women established the All-China Women’s Democratic Federation through an election. It was a leading organization of the national women’s movement intended to “eradicate all feudal customs against women, protect women’s rights and interests and children’s benefits, and actively organize women to participate in all kinds of constructive causes, so as to achieve gender equality and women’s liberation.”18 The organization was renamed “Women’s Federation of the People’s Republic of China” in 1957 and then “All-China Women’Federation” in 1978 (ACWF). It is a bridge and bond connecting the Party and the government with women and also an important force representing and defending women’s rights and interests as well as promoting gender equality. 
 
Immediately after the founding of the PRC, the Chinese government extensively carried out bilateral and multilateral women’s exchanges. It sent women’s federations and delegations to different countries for exchanges of views on women’s issues, invited foreign women’s federations, including the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF), and officials and experts on the protection of women’s rights from other countries, and hosted and participated in international and regional women’s conferences. It also communicated and cooperated with organizations such as the WIDF, the Democratic Women’s Federation of Germany (DFD), the Democratic Women’s Federation of Denmark, the Democratic Women’s Federation of Cameroon, and the Japanese Federation of Women’s Associations. In December 1949, the Asian Women’s Conference held in Beijing adopted a series of declarations and resolutions, including the Letter to All Women in Asian Countries, Resolution on WIDF Assisting the Activities of Women’s Groups in Asian Countries, and Resolution on Fighting for Women’s Rights. The conference also established the master guideline on the women’s movement in Asia.19 These efforts showed that from the very beginning, the PRC tried to unite with advanced international forces through communication and exchanges, and draw on their experiences while respecting the realities in China to promote the development of the women’s movement worldwide. 
 
D. Tortuous development of the protection of women’s rights
 
In the early stage of the PRC, the country carried out women’s work as part of the national liberation, economic recovery, and socialist transformation and construction campaign. By supporting women’s liberation and affirming their great value for revolution and national construction, the government raised their political, social, and economic status, and emancipated them in a way never seen before. 
 
However, Chinese society was in an underdeveloped state with a backward economy and nascent legal development at the time, when economic recovery and socialist transformation and construction were both in the early stage. Therefore, the focus on economic construction might have caused neglect of the relation between protecting women’s rights and pursuing development.20 From 1958 to 1978, there was such an eagerness for quick economic achievements that gender equality was excessively emphasized under a political drive, and women were encouraged to participate in political campaigns as “iron girls.” Such a blind push for women to do jobs unsuitable for their physical abilities not only marginalized the protection of their rights but also severed their connections with their families and harmed their health.21
 
From the late 1950s to the end of the Cultural Revolution, the political movement across the country created extreme difficulties and challenges to both legal development and economic activities, as well as hurdles to the protection of women’s rights. But it must be pointed out that despite the drastic ups and downs in the national economy and many other hardships, China still made remarkable progress on various fronts thanks to the joint efforts of the Party and the people. In particular, the strong sense of social responsibility and ownership exhibited by women in economic construction fully proved their immense power and social value, and that was fully recognized in society.22
 
III. After the Launch of Reform and Opening-up: A New Period for the Development of Women’s Rights in China
 
A. A new starting point for the development of women’s rights
 
The Third Session of the 11th Central Committee of the CPC held in December 1978 marked the beginning of the “Reform and Opening-up” policy in China. It broke away from the “left-leaning” concepts and determined the new development path centered on economic construction, marking a major historical turning point after the founding of the PRC. According to an estimation by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Development Research Center of the State Council, China was a country of low human development in 1980, but it entered the group of medium human development in 1995 and reached the high level of human development in 2011, thanks to the high-speed economic growth during reform and opening-up. Of the 47 countries on the low human development level in 1990, China was the only one that has reached the high level — this progress is manifested in various aspects, from higher incomes and poverty reduction to health and political and social engagement.23 This is solid proof that reform and opening-up have not only brought about fast economic development and comprehensive social progress but also advanced the protection of human rights in China.
 
Reform and opening-up have provided the economic foundation for protecting women’s rights, along with new concepts, ideas, and methods. Take women’s health for example. In the mid-1980s, the concept of women’s health changed significantly in China under the influence of the international women’s health movement. It expanded beyond the traditional scope of physical medicine to the social development dimension, covering political, economic, cultural, and other aspects, with a special emphasis on women’s health being an integral part of overall social development. As the perception of women’s health changed and the understanding of it deepened, the Chinese government established and constantly improved the institutional system and legal system so as to better protect women’s right to health.24 Especially after the medical reform was intensified in 2009, women’s health has become an important part of public health. Through a mixture of measures, including making laws, providing government support, making action plans, carrying out major projects, building networks, ensuring sufficient funds, and conducting publicity, education, and scientific research, the government has set up a firm protective guard for women’s health rights, interests, and status.25 According to statistics, after the launch of the reform and opening-up policy, the average life expectancy of Chinese women has increased year by year from 69.3 years in 1981 to 79.43 in 2016; the hospitalized birth rate rose from 43.7 percent in 1985 to 99.90 percent in 2017, while the maternal mortality rate dropped from 88.9 per 100,000 in 1990 to 19.9 per 100,000 in 2016. China scored higher on the main indicators of women’s health than the average level in upper-middle-income countries and achieved the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) ahead of schedule, prompting the World Health Organization to list it as one of the 10 countries with high performance in maternal and child health.26
 
As a developing country with a large population, China has some special points in its development of medical and health care, social security, and many other areas. For instance, policies are always formulated to guide actions, laws are made or amended timely to adapt to the latest developments, and the legal system is refined step by step. This indicates that the CPC and the Chinese government, with a strong political commitment to protecting women’s rights, have played an essential role in advancing the development of Chinese women.
 
The Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee proposed the great task of perfecting the socialist legal system, embarking on a new journey of strengthening the institutional guarantees for human rights. This has been called a “new origin” of China’s human rights protection by Xu Xianming, a law expert.27 Since then, China, based on economic development, social progress, and better exercising of the rule of law, has further improved the legal and regulatory system, policy support system, work target system, and organizational system designed to preserve women’s rights and interests and promote women’s development. As a result, confidence in the law, the concept of rule of law, the consciousness of rules, and especially the idea of gender equality have been deeply driven home, creating the best environment ever for the protection of women’s rights in the country. 
 
B. The legal framework for the protection of women’s rights in China
 
After reform and opening-up began, the women’s cause in China has been more integrated with the Chinese-style socialist cause and the world women’s movement.
 
At the World Conference of the International Women’s Year, also known as the First UN World Conference on Women, held in June 1975, a significant achievement was the adoption of the Declaration of Mexico on the Equality of Women and Their Contribution to Development and Peace (the Mexico Declaration) and the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 30/3520 (XXX). The conference also adopted the United Nations Decade for Women (1976-1985). On December 18, 1979, the UN General Assembly, through Resolution 34/180, adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to provide targeted, comprehensive and full protection of women’s rights. This was a milestone in the international legislation for the protection of women’s rights, and the most important UN convention on human rights for that purpose.
 
On July 17, 1980, Kang Keqing, then Vice-Chairman of the CPPCC and Chairman of ACWF, signed the CEDAW when attending the Mid-Term World Conference of the International Decade for Women (the Second World Conference on Women) on behalf of the Chinese government, making China one of the first signatories of the Convention. On September 29 the same year, the 16th meeting of the Standing Committee of the Fifth NPC ratified the convention. The ratification meant that the international norms contained in the convention on the protection of women’s rights were binding on China, China’s respect for and protection of women’s rights had found a root in international law, and the women’s cause in China was more closely connected with that in the world. 
 
After ratifying the convention, China actively fulfilled its international obligations by applying the concepts of the convention to its legislative practices for protecting women’s rights. On December 4, 1982, the current Constitution was enacted, which reaffirmed women’s equal rights with men in all spheres of life — political, economic, cultural, social, and domestic. It also emphasized the following: “The State protects the rights and interests of women, applies the principle of equal pay for equal work to men and women alike, and trains and selects cadres from among women”; “marriage, the family, and mother and child are protected by the State”; and “violation of the freedom of marriage is prohibited. Maltreatment of the elderly, women and children is prohibited.”
 
On April 3, 1992, the Fifth Session of the Seventh NPC adopted the Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests, the first special law on comprehensively protecting women’s basic rights and interests. With the formulation of this law, a framework of laws and regulations for the protection of women’s rights, with the Constitution as the basis, Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests as the mainstay, and special laws, regulations, and administrative rules as the supplement, such as the Criminal Law, General Principles of the Civil Law, Marriage Law, and Law of Succession, was primarily established.
 
As far as the legislative trend is concerned, the legislative body is paying more attention to the protection of women’s rights at the micro-level. For example, the Law on Maternal and Infant Health Care, formulated in 1994, the Criminal Law amended in 1997, and the Marriage Law, amended in 2001, laid down special provisions on women’s special rights, from maternal and infant health care to fighting crimes against women to preventing domestic violence. The Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests, which was amended in 2005, made new provisions on a range of publicly concerning issues, including gender discrimination in employment, domestic violence, sexual harassment, contracting of land by rural women, and rights and interests related with properties.
 
In addition to national legislation, more detailed supplementary administrative regulations and local laws have been introduced. Examples include the National Quality Standards and Requirements for Health Care During Pregnancy in Rural and Urban Areas; Measures for Registering Marriage; Regulations on the Maternal and Child Health Work; Regulations Concerning the Labor Protection of Female Staff and Workers; Methods of Beijing for Implementing the Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests; Regulations of Shanghai on the Protection of Women and Children; and Several Regulations of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region on Protecting the Legal Rights and Interests of Women and Children.
 
A developing country of rapid economic and social development, China has kept its laws in step with the times to reflect the social reality, adapt to social trends, and address social needs. It not only formulates new laws promptly but also modifies existing ones at proper times, ensuring a dynamic and organic legal system for protecting the rights of Chinese women.
 
C. The basic state policy of gender equality 
 
In September 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women was held in Beijing. It marked the beginning of Beijing’s home-court diplomacy after it launched reform and opening-up, and was a key, China-hosted multilateral conference with far-reaching influence. Then-President Jiang Zemin said at the opening ceremony that “China attaches great importance to the development of women, and has made gender equality a basic state policy to promote our social development.”28 His remarks, a summary of women’s development in China since the founding of the PRC, responded to the gender mainstreaming trend in the international community and provided the basis for China to implement specific policies and balance gender equality with social development.29 They also demonstrated the firm resolve of the Chinese government to stay in keeping with the international women’s movement and reflected social gender mainstreaming in China. In 2001, China formulated the Program for the Development of Women in China (2001-2010), which included “implementing the basic state policy of equality between men and women” as a general objective for the first time. The Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests, amended in 2005, also stated in the General Provisions that “it is a basic state policy to realize equality between men and women,” codifying it into law for the first time. The 18th CPC National Congress held in 2012 put the policy in the Party’s guideline of governance for the first time, and the report of the 19th CPC National Congress in 2017 again underscored upholding this policy.30
 
Embedding the basic state policy of gender equality in the development program, the national master plan for social and economic development, and other special work plans in the form of law and policy documents is an important way for the CPC and the Chinese government to realize equality between men and women and coordinate women’s development with overall social development. Article 3 of the Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests, amended in 2005, states that “the State Council shall work out a program for the development of Chinese women and shall incorporate it into the plan on the national economy and social development. Each local people’s government above the county level shall, according to the program for the development of Chinese women, work out a plan on the development of women within its administrative area and shall incorporate it into the plan on the development of the national economy and social development.”
 
The program for the development of Chinese women is the materialization of the basic state policy of gender equality. On the eve of the Fourth World Conference on Women that was held in Beijing in 1995, the Chinese government enacted and implemented the Program for the Development of Women in China (1995-2000), the first special plan for women’s development, which set goals on women’s right to participate in state governance and work during the Ninth Five-year Plan (1996-2000) period and listed the measures to meet the goals. Starting from 1995, China has issued four such programs, from 1995 to 2000, 2001 to 2010, 2011 to 2020, and 2021 to 2030, respectively. They listed the general goals, key areas, and policy measures concerning women’s development in each period, and provided for the supervision and evaluation of how the program is implemented.
 
The National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2021-2025) issued by the Chinese government in September 2021 emphasized that “China will continue to implement the basic national policy of gender equality, and enforce the Program for the Development of Women in China (2021-2030). It will improve the environment for women’s development, facilitate their exercise of rights prescribed by law as equal citizens, increase their participation in socio-economic development, and ensure their share of development benefits.” As a matter of fact, from the first National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2009-2010) released in 2009, all such action plans have dedicated chapters to women’s rights, in the endeavor to implement the basic state policy of gender equality consistently. 
 
D. The gender concept and social gender mainstreaming
 
After the 1980s, gender mainstreaming gradually became the new goal and new trend of the international women’s movement. Gender mainstreaming means that the gender perspective is introduced when laws and policies are formulated and implemented to allow for their effects on different sexes, especially women. It is intended to promote gender equality, change women’s disadvantaged position, and advance their comprehensive development. 
 
Human rights mainstreaming is a similar concept, which was put forth in the international field of human rights protection after the end of the Cold War.31 Gender mainstreaming and human rights mainstreaming are two concepts that promote, complement, and merge with each other. A prominent achievement of the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 was combining the two by announcing that women’s rights were also human rights, a slogan that’s still widely used in the UN today. The Beijing Declaration adopted at the conference used the concept of “gender” more than “women,” and the participants committed in the Platform for Action to guarantee respect for women’s rights through concrete actions. 
 
The term “gender” caught Chinese scholars’ attention around the 1990s. Some of them that studied women-related theories began to look at women’s issues from social, historical, cultural, institutional, and other perspectives using the concept of social gender. This pushed forward women-related studies and practices, enhanced the awareness and mainstreaming of social gender, and offered a new perspective for the nation’s making of policies and laws.32 As a result, the term “equality between men and women,” which highlights the difference between natural sexes, has gradually been replaced by such terms as “gender equality” and “social gender equality.”
 
That the nation introduces the perspective of social gender when formulating and implementing laws and public policies means that it not only pays attention to the physical differences between men and women, but also emphasizes the different social environments they live in, and the various factors that contribute to gender equality. For example, it examines how policies and laws affect women from the gender perspective, including how they are implemented and what effect they generate. The study of social gender offers new perspectives and approaches for the study of law, which has resulted in some monographs and textbooks that analyze the law from the social gender perspective. Examples include An Introduction to the Study of Gender and Law33 edited by Chen Mingxia and Huang Lie of the Center for Gender and Law Studies, Institute of Law, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and Sex and Law34, part of the “21st-century law textbooks for regular higher education” published by the China University of Political Science and Law Press.
 
To put the social gender perspective into practice, gender statistics have received more attention both in China and in the world. The Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 asked the governments of all countries to strengthen gender statistics and put them in the official statistics system. The United Nations Statistics Division has published the World’s Women: Trends and Statistics series to gradually establish an international gender statistics regime.35 On March 30, 1990, the Chinese Center of Social Survey on Women was created in Beijing, marking the beginning of a new stage for women-related social surveys. After 2004, the National Bureau of Statistics began to incorporate gender statistics into its regular statistical system. A multi-layered monitoring system for the status of women, encompassing the national and provincial (municipal and autonomous region) level, has gradually taken shape, with indicators in the “Program for the Development of Women in China” at the core. Local areas and various sectors have also developed comprehensive statistical reports and regularly submitted them for review and evaluation. Based on comprehensive statistics of women’s development, the nation can make well-informed decisions regarding the evaluation, formulation, and revision of relevant policies and regulations, so as to facilitate the all-round development of women’s cause. The statistics also advance the mainstreaming of social gender in China.
 
The legislative and judicial bodies, relevant government departments, and social groups have also put in place working systems to promote social gender mainstreaming, including the NPC Social Development Affairs Committee, CPPCC Committee on Women and Youth, State Council Working Committee on Women and Children, and the All-China Women’s Federation. It must be specially pointed out that the State Council Working Committee on Women and Children is a coordinating organization entrusted by the Chinese government to manage women’s work. During the organizational reform in 2000, China refined and elevated the organizational structure and duties of the committee, whereby its member units increased from 19 to the current 35, and corresponding bodies were created in all people’s governments above county level across the 31 provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities). As a result, a nationwide organizational architecture for advancing gender equality and women’s development is in place that is well connected and coordinated both vertically and laterally.36 Setting up dedicated organs to supervise, implement and promote women’s protection reflects China’s efforts to push gender mainstreaming.
 
It’s safe to say that both in the UN and in China, both in terms of law and policy, gender mainstreaming has become the new trait and new trend in the protection of Chinese women’s rights.
 
IV. After the 18th CPC National Congress: A New Era for the Development of Women’s Rights in China
 
Since the 18th CPC National Congress, China has taken substantial steps to boost gender equality and social gender mainstreaming, furthered the all-round development of women’s rights and met a series of indicators on the protection of women’s rights listed in the UN’s development agenda.37 The development of Chinese women’s rights is comprehensive on a newer and higher realm, with the achievements mainly demonstrated in the following six areas.
 
A. The socialist path of women’s development with Chinese characteristics has become more solid
 
Taking the socialist path of women’s development with Chinese characteristics under the leadership of the CPC is the fundamental road to China’s historical achievements in promoting women’s rights. It is also the basic experience drawn from the 100-year practices and lessons of the women’s movement based on the explorations made by the CPC and the Chinese government through different historical periods. 
 
After the 18th CPC National Congress, the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at the core, judging from the historical stage of Chinese women’s development, used the Marxist position, view, and approach to answer what kind of road Chinese women should take for their development in the new historical conditions. This answer provided science-based guidance on how to develop the socialist women’s cause with Chinese characteristics in the new era.38
 
On October 28, 2013, the report of the 11th National Women’s Congress pointed out that in adhering to the socialist path of women’s development with Chinese characteristics, the country must uphold the Party’s leadership, follow the basic state policy of gender equality and embed it in the overall national development, respect women’s position as masters of the country, continuously reform and innovate women’s work, and promote women’s foreign exchanges.39
 
On September 27, 2015, General Secretary Xi Jinping gave a speech titled “Promoting Women’s All-round Development and Building a Better World for All” at the Global Leaders’ Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, in which he elaborated on a four-point proposal on further advancing gender equality and women’s all-round development. First, the fight for women’s development should proceed in tandem with social and economic progress. Better and more-rounded development strategies are needed that take into account national realities, gender differences, and the special needs of women and which aim to ensure women’s equal share in the fruits of development. Policy measures should be updated to stimulate women’s potential and raise their participation in the process of social and economic development. Second, women’s rights and interests must be protected. Women’s rights and interests must be protected by laws and regulations, and women’s capacity to play their part in society and the economy must be strengthened. It should be ensured that the basic medical services for women are sufficient, school is affordable and safe for every girl, and vocational and life-long education is developed for women. Third, the aim should be to build a harmonious and inclusive society, wipe out any discrimination and prejudice against women, and dismiss outdated mentalities and customs inhibiting women’s development. Fourth, a global environment should be fostered that is favorable to women’s development. The country must stand firmly for peace, development, and win-win cooperation, preserve peace, carry out women-related international development cooperation, and narrow the development gaps among women in different countries.40
 
Taking the socialist path of women’s development with Chinese characteristics is a great endeavor undertaken by the CPC and the Chinese government guided by the Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era and based on confidence in China’s socialist path, theory, system, and culture.
 
B. The awareness of gender equality and gender mainstreaming is enhanced 
 
With the ceaseless progress of the human rights cause and gender mainstreaming in China, society has come to the consensus that we must protect women’s rights from the gender or right perspective. In this process, the concept of social gender has been introduced to the laws, policies, and measures for women’s protection, and become the mainstream when the CPC and the Chinese government formulate action programs and guidelines. The Program for the Development of Women in China (2021-2030) and the National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2021-2025) enacted in 2021 lay great stress on “implementing the basic state policy of gender equality,” “sharpening the awareness of gender equality across the society,” and “promoting the comprehensive development of all.” They provide strong policy support for the mainstreaming of social gender. 
 
As the Chinese economy and society keep moving forward, there have been different understandings of gender equality in different historical periods after the founding of the PRC, partly because of the influence of the international women’s movement.41 The gender equality advocated in China today features richer and broader connotations than what was understood decades ago.
 
When addressing the Global Leaders’ Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment on September 27, 2015, Xi Jinping said, “As the Chinese people pursue a better life, every Chinese woman has the opportunity to excel in life and make her dreams come true.”42 When he met with the 12th leading group of the ACWF on November 2, 2018, General Secretary Xi urged them to “make sure women can equally exercise their democratic rights in accordance with the law, equally participate in economic and social development, and equally share in the fruits of reform and development.”43 This means that when the central leadership with Xi Jinping at the core underlines gender equality, it refers to equal rights in the legal sense, equal opportunities in terms of safeguards, and the all-round development of all women as well as all their rights.
 
A strong political commitment, close attention from the government, energetic advocacy through laws and policies, and more acute social consciousness — the synergy of these factors is nurturing a social culture where gender equality is increasingly valued and accepted. 
 
C. China’s socialist legal system for the protection of women’s rights is improved
 
China has established a legal structure for protecting women’s rights and promoting gender equality, with the Constitution as the basis, the Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests as the mainstay, and civil and administrative laws and regulations as well as local regulations as the supplement, including special laws and regulations and government rules. By reinforcing the legal awareness of gender equality across society, creating sound laws and regulations, cracking hard down on crimes and violations infringing upon women’s legal rights and interests, and perfecting the system of legal aid, judicial relief, and rectification for women, China has put in place the institutional safeguards for women’s rights as well as property rights and interests. 
 
In recent years, China has made historical breakthroughs in making laws for the protection of women’s rights. On December 27, 2015, the first Anti-domestic Violence Law was issued that specified the mechanisms and measures for preventing and handling domestic violence. It showcased China’s clear-cut legal stance against domestic violence and provided a new legal weapon to guarantee women’s rights. The Amendment (IX) to the Criminal Law adopted on August 29, 2015, replaced the crime of prostituting young girls with the crime of rape and stipulated severe punishment for it. It also provided that those who buy an abducted woman or child shall be held criminally accountable, and cases of child abuse, depending on the circumstances, can be taken as cases of public prosecution. This amendment intensified the protection of the legal rights and interests of women, especially girls. The Civil Code is an “encyclopedia of social life.” On May 28, 2020, the Third Session of the 13th NPC passed the Civil Code of the People’s Republic of China, which underlined the special protection of women’s civil rights. This has given a push to mainstreaming the protection of women’s rights in the civil law domain and will exert positive impacts on this cause in the future.
 
To ensure the quality and actual effects of the legal system protecting women’s rights, a gender-based review has caught on as a method to promote social gender mainstreaming in the legal sector. The Program for the Development of Women in China (2011-2020) proposed to “introduce the awareness of social gender to the legal system and public policies, and strengthen the gender equality review of regulations and policies.” The Program for the Development of Women in China (2021-2030)continued to demand that “a standard and effective mechanism should be developed for gender equality evaluation of regulations and policies.” By reviewing existing laws and those to be formulated or implemented from the perspective of human rights and social gender, we can prevent any adverse effects on women that may be caused by seemingly fair laws, and consequently realize substantial and genuine equality. In March 2012, Jiangsu province took the lead in issuing the Guiding Opinions on Establishing the Consulting and Evaluating Mechanism Regarding Gender Equality in Policies and Regulations. Since then, 29 provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions have conducted the evaluation and achieved great results.44 Amidst the trend of social gender mainstreaming, China has continuously reflected on and reviewed existing laws, studied how they interact with the dynamic reality, adjusted out-of-step legal provisions promptly, and summarized local practices and forged consensuses while institutionalizing. Conducting gender equality evaluations of relevant laws and policies has become the trend in protecting Chinese women’s rights with the law.45
 
The Chinese legal system protecting women’s rights also includes international law. China attaches great importance to international documents on human rights for their essential role in promoting and protecting women’s rights, and the Chinese legal system has actively drawn on the international concepts, principles, and rules in that respect. China has signed more than 20 international documents on human rights, including many concerning the protection of women’s rights, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Convention on the Rights of the Child, and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. China has earnestly fulfilled its obligations under the conventions, timely submitted reports to relevant organizations and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), and had constructive dialogues with the organizations and UNHRC member states. In light of the actual development of the women’s cause at home, the country has adopted and carried out their rational and feasible suggestions and put the international concept of women’s rights protection into better practice as it strives for a sound legal system and mechanisms for that purpose.
 
D. Chinese women engage in political, economic, and social affairs in larger percentage, with better capability 
 
A total of 551 female Party members currently working in Party and government organs participated in the 19th CPC National Congress in 2017 (24.2 percent of all participants), an increase of 1.2 percentage points from the previous congress. A total of 742 women were elected deputies to the 13th National People’s Congress (24.9 percent of all deputies), an increase of 1.5 percentage points from the previous one and about five times the number at the 1st NPC. A total of 442 women were elected deputies to the 13th CPPCC (20.39 percent of all deputies), an increase of 2.55 percentage points from the previous one.46
 
Participating in social affairs is an important way of raising women’s social status and realizing gender equality. By empowering women economically and encouraging them to participate in and share the fruits of economic and social development, China has created more space and opportunities for women and enhanced their capability to participate in social and economic affairs. Statistics show that in 2017, women accounted for 43.1 percent of total employment, and 1,366,000 collective contracts on protecting the rights and interests of female employees were signed nationwide, covering 3,153,000 enterprises and 79,999,000 female employees. To stimulate women’s initiative and unleash their potential, China has issued preferential and incentive policies to further guarantee their equal chance to entrepreneurship. Especially in the emerging internet sectors, 55 percent of entrepreneurs are women.47
 
Women have benefited most from the high-speed development of education in China. The Compulsory Education Law implemented in 2016 specified that compulsory education in China is a compulsory, unified, public welfare cause, and the Higher Education Law of the same year stressed the importance of establishing a well-conceived and legally complying college governance system. The universality of compulsory education and the improved quality of higher education has enabled women to receive a better education. The Program for the Development of Women in China (2011-2020) required that “the principle and concept of gender equality should be fully manifested in the educational standards and teaching process of all kinds on all levels.” The latest Program for the Development of Women in China (2021-2030) sets the goal that “education in gender equality shall be advanced comprehensively in colleges as well as in primary and middle schools, and both teachers and students should be more aware of this concept.” This means that instead of merely emphasizing the equal access of girls to education, China has integrated the principle of gender equality in the contents, process, and targets of education.
 
E. The rights of special female groups, including women of ethnic groups, in poverty, in rural areas, and of small girls, are better protected
 
China has doubled the protection of the rights for women of ethnic minorities. Take Tibetan women living in the Tibet autonomous region for example. Their rights are not only protected by the Constitution and national laws but also by a series of local laws and regulations, such as the Methods of the Tibet Autonomous Region for Implementing the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests and Methods of the Tibet Autonomous Region for Implementing the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Minors. Before Tibet underwent democratic reform, Tibetan women were considered inferior in all aspects. But after 60 years of development, Tibet has established a modern educational system, medical service system, and social insurance system, basically ensuring parallel development of Tibetan women with women in the rest of the country.48 Most objectives listed in the Plan of Tibet Autonomous Region for Women’s Development (2011-2015) and Plan of Tibet Autonomous Region for Children’s Development (2011-2015) have been accomplished, and women are enjoying a growing sense of gain, happiness, and security.49 As in Tibet, the basic state policy of gender equality is also comprehensively implemented in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, where women’s rights are further developed and protected.50
 
Following the guideline of promoting women’s all-round development, China has built a three-level network of maternity and infant healthcare services covering all urban and rural areas, thus narrowing the urban-rural and cross-regional gap in health services for women. Medical and health care plans have been continuously refined to provide diverse and targeted services for special groups, including women in poverty, in rural areas, with disabilities, and in old age. The goal that no one shall be left behind in the “health for all” campaign is becoming reality. By carrying out poverty elimination through better health services and building “water cellars for mothers,” the rights of impoverished and rural women have been better have better guaranteed. In 2020, all impoverished women were lifted out of poverty under the current standard, meeting the poverty reduction goal in the UN 2030 agenda for sustainable development 10 years in advance. It was a historical achievement in China’s human rights cause and a significant contribution to the whole world.
 
The outmoded Chinese tradition of preferring sons over daughters once exposed young girls to serious gender discrimination. Chinese laws and policies expressly prohibit gender discrimination and discrimination against girls, and the Chinese government and all social sectors call for caring for and protecting girls. This is conducive to fostering a social atmosphere of gender equality and rectifying and eradicating discriminatory practices. In 2016, the Regulations on Prohibiting the Sex Determination of a Fetus for Non-medical Purposes and the Termination of Pregnancy Because of Undesired Sex of a Fetus were amended, and special campaigns and routine regulation against such practices have been carried out sustainably. As a result, the gender ratio of newborns has become more balanced. Great efforts are made to eliminate gender differences in compulsory education and enable more children with disabilities to be educated, so Chinese girls’ equal right to education is better protected. Statistics show that from 2015 to 2019, the net enrollment rate of school-age girls at primary schools reached or exceeded 99.9 percent for five years in a row, basically on a par with boys. Gender disparity in the period of compulsory education has been eradicated.51
 
F. China is making greater contributions to protecting women’s rights worldwide
 
As a developing country with nearly one-fifth of the world’s female population, China’s achievements in gender equality and women’s development are in itself a major contribution to the protection of women’s rights worldwide and the sustainable development of the whole of humanity. At the same time, its unique path and practices of women’s development, the concept of protecting women’s rights, and the vision of building a community with a shared future for humanity have also enriched and advanced the global cause of women’s rights protection.
 
The development of the women’s cause in China is more closely connected with the global development of gender equality. In international exchanges and cooperation, China attaches great importance and gives strong support to the UN’s active measures for promoting gender equality and women’s development worldwide. It has taken an active part in formulating international and regional systems and action plans for protecting women’s rights, made gender equality and women’s development an important part of international cooperation and multilateral/bilateral human rights exchanges, and provided financial and talent support as well as technical training for women’s rights protection in other developing countries. China has played and will continue to play a significant role in driving gender equality and women’s development across the world. Take the advancement of women’s health for instance. China signed the China-WHO Country Cooperation Strategy (2016-2020) in 2016, and the Memorandum of Understanding on Health Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative and its Implementation Plan in 2017. It also signed a series of public health cooperation plans and medical/health cooperation agreements as well as forged hospital cooperation relations with Asian, African, and Latin-American countries in the South South Cooperation framework after 2015. All these endeavors involved topics and measures concerning women’s health.
 
On September 27, 2015, Xi Jinping delivered a speech at the Global Leaders’ Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. He said, “Women in China, through their development, will also play a greater part in the global women’s movement and make a greater contribution to gender equality throughout the world. To support women’s development worldwide and the work of UN Women, China will donate US$10 million to UN Women for the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action and the realization of the related goals in the Post 2015 Development Agenda. In the coming five years, China will help other developing countries to build 100 ‘health projects for women and children, send teams of medical experts to provide services and implement 100 ‘happy campus projects’ to finance the schooling of poor girls and raise the school enrollment rate for girls. Thirty-thousand women from developing countries are participating in training programs in China and the country is providing vocational training for 100,000 women in other developing countries. Under the related fund co-sponsored by China and the United Nations, there will be special capacity-building programs for women from developing countries.”52 Xi’s pledge demonstrated China’s readiness to play a constructive role as a major developing country in advancing the protection of women’s rights to the largest extent and the health, development, and well-being of women around the world.
 
V. Conclusion: Challenges and Prospects
 
A. Challenges to the development of women’s rights in China
 
At the High-level Meeting on the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women held on October 1, 2020, General Secretary Xi Jinping said, “We still have a long way to go and need to work hard to build a world in which women are free from discrimination as well as a society of inclusive development. Let us work together and redouble efforts to promote gender equality and advance the global cause of women’s development.”53
 
While making great achievements in protecting women’s rights, China still faces problems or challenges that cannot be neglected. 
 
First, due to historical and current discrimination against women, there is still a long way to go in raising the consciousness of social gender. Mainstreaming women’s rights is an important way to do that, but it will take time. Although we can push the process by making and implementing laws and policies, it would eventually come to social recognition, acceptance, and practice in everyday life.
 
Second, more can be done to ensure equal opportunities for women to participate in the administration of public affairs and economic and social development. There is room for improvement, in different places, sectors, and to varying degrees, regarding the representation of women in the Party and government organs, in corporate management, and educational and research institutes, as well as the representation of rural women in villagers autonomous organizations. For instance, the mid-term statistical report (2016) and the 2019 report of the Program for the Development of Women in China (2011-2020) issued by the National Bureau of Statistics showed that women’s participation in decision-making and management is still limited, and the situation is imbalanced between different levels, departments, or regions.54
 
Third, sustained efforts must be made to protect the rights of special groups such as women of ethnic groups, in poverty, in rural areas, and of young or old age, as that holds the key to women’s all-round development. For instance, the age discrimination against elderly women, the difficulty in freeing them from domestic chores, and the retirement of men and women at different ages are still impeding the protection of elderly women’s rights. When Xi Jinping met with the new leading group of ACWF on November 2, 2018, he highlighted the importance of paying more attention to the most ordinary women, especially women in need. He also urged the ACWF to take special care of women in poverty, with disabilities, and staying at home by meeting their most immediate needs and helping them overcome difficulties.55
 
Fourth, the legal system for protecting the rights of Chinese women must be improved and the implementation mechanisms intensified. Chinese laws unambiguously object to acts such as sexual harassment, domestic violence, and sexual abuse, as well as gender-based discrimination in any sector. However, the definition and system of laws still need constant improvement, and corresponding mechanisms of prevention, response, and relief must be created to make the laws operable and their implementation smoother. Take the newly formulated Anti-domestic Violence Law for instance. It marks a legislative milestone, but in judicial practices, the determination of domestic violence is not just subject to legal provisions, but also policies, the judge’s judgment, 
social environment, and other factors.56 Also, more explorations are needed to detail and put into practice the “Personal Safety Protective Order” system and the “Temporary Shelter” system stipulated by the law. Gender equality and women’s development are critical themes as fairness, justice, and equality are pursued today, a vital objective of sustainable human development, and an essential gauge of how advanced a nation or a civilization is. 
 
B. Prospects for the development of women’s rights in China
 
Promoting gender equality and women’s liberation has been the consistent political position and responsibility of the CPC and the Chinese government. The CPC, from the day of its birth, has written that on the banner guiding its struggles. Especially after the founding of the PRC, the political, economic, social, and domestic status of Chinese women has been fundamentally changed in the legal sense. After the reform and opening-up policy was launched, China has enjoyed high-speed economic and social development and ceaseless progress in the rule of law. In such a context and with a strong political commitment, it has further improved the systems of laws and regulations, policy support, work objectives, and organizational setup for promoting women’s development and preserving their rights and interests. With these efforts, people are more aware of gender equality, the gender mainstreaming process has kept moving forward, and the country has done an even better job at protecting women’s rights both in terms of capability and level. From the very beginning, China has actively sought international exchanges and cooperation in developing its women’s cause, so its protection of women’s rights has stayed in keeping with the international trend of the women’s movement.
 
There is always room for improvement in the protection of human rights. Looking forward, China will continue to enrich its concepts and practices to promote gender equality and women’s all-round development, engage in the global endeavor of protecting women’s rights in greater depth and breadth, and make more contributions to the women’s cause worldwide. 
 
(Translated by XIANG Na)
 
* LIU Huawen ( 柳华文 ), Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights Studies, Deputy Director and Research Fellow of the Institute of International Law, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. This paper is the phased result of the research program “A Human Rights Dimension of the Xi Jinping Thought on the Rule of Law” undertaken by China Society for Human Rights Studies.
 
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46. The general meeting of the first National Committee of CPPCC was held in Beiping on September 21, 1949. A total of 69 female representatives (10.4% of all representatives) began to play an important role in the country’s political affairs. When the first Session of the First NPC was held in Beijing in 1954, 149 female deputies attended, accounting for 12% of all deputies.
 
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56. Zhang Jianyuan, “Why Is It Hard to Determine Domestic Violence? — An Empirical Study Centered on Divorce Cases Concerning Domestic Violence,” Journal of Shandong University(Philosophy and Social Sciences) 4 (2018): 109-117. 
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