Reconsidering Anti-domestic Violence

August 14, 2017
By Liu BohongEditor: Amanda Wu
Reconsidering Anti-domestic Violence
Liu Bohong, a professor at China Women's University [Women of China English Monthly]


Brief Review 

In early 1994, I had the honor of becoming a member of the committee of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) forum under the Chinese organizing committee of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. Our team was responsible for making preparation for Chinese women to participate in the forum. We submitted the workshop list to our superior, and the workshop topics included opposing violence, especially domestic violence, against women. 

In the beginning, our proposal was rejected by our superior. At that time, Chinese were not aware of domestic violence. Many people had a "reasonable excuse" for domestic violence, and they quoted the traditional Chinese saying, "Beating means love, scolding means affection." We devoted a lot of time to persuading our superior by giving examples of how other countries and regions held the women's NGO forums.

In the end, China Women's Judges Association, under the leadership of Ma Yuan, then-Vice-President of the Supreme People's Court, hosted the workshop on opposition to violence against women. Participants opposed violence against women during the 1995 Huairou women's NGO forum. 

At the end of the Fourth World Conference on Women, the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) was adopted, and opposition to violence against women was one of the strategic objectives (priorities) outlined in that document to improve women's status and realize gender equality. Opposing violence against women, including domestic violence against women, became a global initiative to protect women's rights, and to promote women's development.

Decades of Unremitting Efforts

After the Fourth World Conference on Women, implementation of BPFA's 12 strategic objectives and opposition to violence against women became goals of Chinese society and Chinese women. In October 2001, the TV series, Don't Talk to Strangers, was broadcast on Nanjing Satellite TV Station. The TV series was overwhelmingly dramatic, and it contained complicated plots, strong dramatic conflicts and complex characters. The hero, a doctor who had received a higher education, was suspicious of his wife, and he beat and assaulted his wife. At one point, he even attempted to kill his wife. In the meantime, his wife, who was a teacher, endured her husband's suspicions and violence, but she finally came to realize that she must protect herself and seek help. 

Prior to the series, most Chinese thought domestic violence only happened within families in remote, underdeveloped areas, and especially within poorly educated families. The TV series changed such thoughts and played a positive role in advocating the elimination of domestic violence, and in promoting the respect for and protection of women's human rights.

In the meantime, various women's organizations, at all levels, and research institutes, experts and scholars on gender equality, NGOs, lawyers and social workers who have a conscience and a sense of responsibility have actively carried out studies on anti-domestic violence, advocated the end of violence against women, promoted anti-domestic violence legislation, applied laws to protect victims and offered social assistance to victims. They have also followed the principle of gender mainstreaming. In 2001, "prohibiting domestic violence" was included in the amendments to the Marriage Law of the People's Republic of China. In 2005, anti-domestic violence was included in amendments to the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Rights and Interests of Women. In 2008, the Publicity Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the ministries of Public Security, Civil Affairs, Justice, and Health, and the All-China Women's Federation iss
ued the Opinions on Preventing and Eliminating Domestic Violence, which stipulated the responsibilities of relevant departments.

At the local level, women's organizations, relevant officials and departments have pushed forward anti-domestic violence legislation. In 2000, the Standing Committee of Hunan Provincial People's Congress issued China's first local regulation to prevent and eliminate domestic violence. By 2012, some 28 municipalities, provinces and autonomous regions had implemented regulations, and more than 90 prefecture-level cities had established relevant policies. These anti-domestic violence systems, with their different features, have provided a reference for national legislation.

Nationally, an increasing number of people have been calling for the establishment of a national anti-domestic violence law. In 2012, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) included the drafting of a national anti-domestic violence law in its legislation plan. In December 2015, the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, the NPC Standing Committee adopted the landmark Anti-Domestic Violence Law of the People's Republic of China. It was the first law, created from the bottom up, and the result of cooperation between the Chinese Government and the public, and through the efforts of multiple departments and organizations, to protect people's personal rights and to oppose violence. It finally became the will, and responsibility of the State to eliminate domestic violence.

New Problems after Implementation of Anti-domestic Violence Law

The Anti-domestic Violence Law took effect as of March 1, 2016. Since implementation, to ensure the law is used to protect citizen's rights, relevant departments have conducted various activities to publicize and promote the law. They have also provided training, solved cases and offered assistance to victims.

Recently, I had the honor of participating in training relevant persons on anti-domestic violence, and I discovered a readily apparent problem during that course.

During a dinner, I chatted with a 10-year-old girl, whose mother was president of the local women's federation. I asked the girl, casually, "Does your mother beat you?" The honest girl said, "Yes." Her mother was embarrassed after she overheard that conversation, and she said, "I just beat her lightly." I asked a female teacher if she beat her child. She said, "Yes. It is for his own good. Children need to be educated. Education requires punishment." I then asked a judge the same question. He said that his son was too naughty and didn't listen to him, and he could do nothing but beat his son. 

I was shocked. How can parents oppose domestic violence on the one hand, yet beat their children on the other? Isn't beating a child a form of domestic violence? So, I asked all of the participants, "Do you beat your children at home?" Many people laughed, and they answered, "Yes." But they appeared to be embarrassed.

I reminded them that the Anti-domestic Violence Law protects all members of Chinese families from violence, and that it by no means simply "opposes a husband beating his wife." Admittedly, violence based on gender discrimination against women is primary and serious, but the law doesn't permit a husband and his wife to beat other members of the family. Moreover, the fifth article of the Anti-domestic Violence Law stipulates, "If minors, elderly people, people with disabilities, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and seriously ill patients suffer domestic violence, they should be given special protection." 

Zero tolerance for domestic violence — including all forms of violence and violence against any member of families — is virtually the consensus of mankind. If a husband beats his wife because she gives birth to a daughter (not a son), the husband's violence against his wife is a form of gender-based violence. If the wife beats the daughter and vents her anger at her daughter, her violence is also a form of gender-based violence, and it should not be tolerated.

Thanks to the Chinese Government's anti-domestic violence efforts during the past 20-plus years, Chinese have gained certain level of awareness of and vigilance against gender-based violence. But not all family members, including children and elderly people, have acquired enough awareness. Beating children for the above-stated three reasons — for the children's own good, beating lightly and making children behave — still amounts to violence against weaker members of families. In traditional Chinese culture, many believe in the traditional Chinese sayings "sparing the rod and spoiling the child" and "a child will climb up to the roof to remove the tiles once you stop beating him/her for three days." Violence against weaker members of families violates the Anti-domestic Violence Law and the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Minors. We must observe the law and eliminate such violence.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the BPFA and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda make it clear that all forms of violence against women and girls must be eliminated. Eliminating all forms of violence is more than eliminating all forms of domestic violence, and eliminating all forms of domestic violence is more than eliminating all forms of violence against wives. Eliminating all forms of violence marks the progress of human civilization. When implementing Anti-domestic Violence Law, we should deepen the awareness of all forms of violence and the awareness of respecting and protecting all people's human rights, and everyone should live in an equal, civilized and harmonious environment, which is free of violence and discrimination.

The author is Liu Bohong, a professor at China Women's University.

(Source: Women of China English Monthly February 2017 Issue)

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