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GLOBAL NEWS | winter 2009

No Longer Silent
Sexual harassment finally gets a hearing for China's 330 million women workers

Xiong JieAs working hours wound down in Sichuan, a southwestern Chinese province, 29-year-old human-resources manager Liu Lun invited recent college graduate and new hire Chen Dan into his office and asked her to be his girlfriend. When she refused, he grabbed her by the neck and forcefully kissed her. Colleagues overheard and called police. Chen escaped.

Across the country in Shanghai, 29-year-old Xiong Jie says, she accompanied her foreign manager on a walk after a company dinner. “Suddenly, he kissed me,” says Xiong. “I didn’t have time to react, and there was no one around to witness it.” When he apologized, Xiong says, she forgave him—until he did it again. She protested. He fired her.

Xiong searched for a new job. But Chen filed suit, using the 2005 amendment to the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Rights and Interests of Women, which recognizes women’s right to arbitrate or litigate cases of sexual harassment. In July 2008, Chen became the first to win a criminal case using the amendment. The court sentenced Liu to five months in jail.

Mao Zedong once famously declared, “Women hold up half the sky”; today, they also constitute half of China’s formal workforce—330 million of the nation’s 711.5 million employees, according to the All-China Women’s Foundation. Scholars conservatively put the number of Chinese women who have suffered workplace sexual harassment at 25 to 30 percent, but surveys over the past decade report numbers as high as 80 percent, with the majority of incidents occurring on the job. Sociologists and legal experts say few women seek legal recourse.

No official body has recorded how many suits have been brought, and most aren’t public record, says Li Ying, deputy director of the Center for Women’s Law Studies & Legal Services of Peking University. Only Chen has won a criminal case; a few others have won civil settlements. But some women who have won such suits struggle to collect compensation, notes Jo Ling Kent, a Fulbright Scholar who studied sexual harassment cases in Beijing: “These verdicts are hailed as victories, but you have to go back and say, ‘Judge? Company? City? Government? Hello—you need to deliver!’”

Excerpted from the Winter 2009 issue of Ms. - join the ms. community at www.msmagazine.com.

Photo: Xiong Jie was first harassed, then fired for protesting. By Megan Shank

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