Behind the Spectacle: Women’s Human Rights in China

Marcy Bloom

Behind the Olympic spectacle, what is the reality in China for women, their health, reproductive rights, and human rights?

During China’s
bid for the Olympics in 2001, Beijing Olympic official Liu Jingmin stated
that the 2008 Olympic games would be "an opportunity
to foster democracy, improve human rights, and integrate China with
the rest of the world."
China’s leaders want the world to see a city, a country, and a
people that represent the nation of the future. Beijing has undergone
breath-taking modernization in preparation for these 2008 Games and
the entire country has put its best foot forward.

But behind the Olympic spectacle, what is the reality in China for women, their health, reproductive rights,
and human rights?

Human rights activists warn that China is a totalitarian
state that has used free markets to fuel economic growth, lift hundreds
of millions of its people out of poverty, and attempt to demonstrate
that a strict one-party Communist system of rule can be as beneficial
as a democratic system–all while using these mechanisms to control every
aspect of the behavior of its huge population and
to consolidate its power
.

Even as China emerges from
the socialist police state that was crafted under Chairman Mao’s oppressive
Cultural Revolution, the country is still full of rampant government
corruption, secret trials, inhumane detentions, abuses of power, injustices,
and the denial of human rights.As I watch
in awe at the powerful athleticism of the young Chinese women of the
Olympics, I wonder about their human rights, reproductive health and rights,
and their status in Chinese society.

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In January
2007, respected Chinese journalist Li Xing wrote: "I have been trying
hard to help my readers understand that fact that discrimination against
women and attitudes of male chauvinism are…continuing to hurt Chinese
women."
She further
declared that the general media have not been much help in getting rid
of traditional stereotypes against women. For example, the January 2007
media coverage of a report from the State Population and Family Planning
Commission indicated that for every 100 baby girls born in 2005, there
were 118.58 baby boys. In some provinces, the gap is even more severe–130
baby boys for every 100 girls. This startling disparity is expected
to widen, with serious concerns for the survival of girls, as well as
social stability. However, according to Li, most of the Chinese media
reports were concerned solely with the impact on men, highlighting the
fact that by 2020, 30 million Chinese men will find it impossible to
find a wife. Li questioned where the focus was for women’s lives,
health, rights, and well-being because of this polarizing gender imbalance.
She emphasized: "As far as the root of the matter is concerned, news
media just stop short of condemning the traditional male chauvinism
[and women’s inequality] entrenched in Chinese culture, as if it is
something we can do little about."

Where does
the male chauvinism of Chinese culture referred to by Li come from?
Many believe that the heart of the problem lies in the Confucian tradition
of man’s superiority over women, a belief that has survived decades
of Communist rule.
According to the
Confucian structure of society
,
women at every level were to occupy a position lower than men. This
"natural and proper" view of women has had an enormous influence
on the attitudes towards girls and boys that have long been held in
Chinese society. In a patriarchal society where boys carry on the family
name, are considered better workers, and are seen as insurance against
old age, parents–especially
those in rural areas–prize boys and
have a disincentive to bear and keep their female infants
.

In 2004,
the Chinese government stated that it recognized that the equality and
advancement of women was closely tied to the entire society’s development
and growth. This was part of its annual report on The Convention on
the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
against Women (CEDAW),

which the government had previously ratified. CEDAW makes it clear
that coercion in family planning policies is
prohibited:
"Compulsory
sterilization or [forced] abortion adversely affects women’s physical
and mental health, and infringes on the right of women to decide on
the number and spacing of children."

However,
China’s "one-child" policy, which sets birth quotas for most couples to one child, has
caused the dramatic gender imbalance noted earlier. While the Law on
Population and Family Planning states that one child is mostly merely
"encouraged," abusive or coercive enforcement measures, such as forced abortions,
compulsory sterilizations, and the forced insertion of intra-uterine
devices after abortions or births, have gone on for years and continue
to be documented.

The one-child
policy was devised in the 1970s to curb China’s burgeoning population, now at more
than 1.3 billion, but the implementation has resulted in numerous human rights
violations. Women who have refused to have abortions, sterilizations,
and /or use contraception, as well as their family members, have been
threatened, lost jobs and homes, and have
been imprisoned. Local authorities who decide when and how to
collect the so-called "social maintenance" penalties used to enforce
the one-child policy, and these fines have often been abusive, arbitrary,
and corrupt. Recently parts of the country have seen protests and riots over family planning rules; farmers have demanded
refunds of fines levied against the families who had more than one child. These arbitrary
enforcement measures
,
such as hefty fines, forced abortions, confiscation of homes and property,
as well as illegal land grabs and the imprisonment of "law breakers
and instigators," have fueled deep tensions between Chinese citizens
and Communist party officials, challenging the party’s efforts to
maintain stability and keep its grip on power.

The cases
of Mao
Hengfeng
and Chen Guangcheng are illustrative of the inhuman penalties
handed out when family planning/one-child policies are challenged. Mao, a human rights activist, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison after she refused to have an abortion.
Chen is a blind, self-taught lawyer and activist who is serving more
than four years in prison after exposing abuses in the implementation
of the one-child policy. Like Mao, he has been abused and isolated in
prison and is in poor health.

China’s
growing gender-ratio disparity is a result of the restrictive implementation
of its family planning policies and the deep cultural prevalence for
male children. Some officials have admitted
that the one-child policy has "aggravated the imbalance,"
as the restrictions have led to sex-selective
abortions that have overwhelmingly caused the abortion of female fetuses.

According
to a United Nations official: "The shortage of women will have enormous
implications on China’s social, economic, and development future…The
skewed ratio of men to women will have an impact on the sex industry
and human trafficking," as well as family, societal,
and regional stability
.

In 1994,
the Mother and Child Health Act outlawed the practice of gender identification
of the fetus and sex-selective abortions; this was reaffirmed in the
2002 Population and Family Planning Law. However, many consider this
law unenforceable and yet another human rights
violation against women and couples.

On the positive
side, Chinese officials have begun the "Care for Girls" campaign
in an effort to raise awareness and demonstrate the value of girls and
women. This advocacy program is
aimed at prospective parents in many underdeveloped areas to correct
the severe gender disparity. This is key, as changing the cultural attitudes
around women and girls, and educating the public on their equal value,
as well as their human rights, is fundamental. Observers of Chinese
society
also encourage
laws that grant girls and women equal rights, enhance the rights of
daughters and their responsibilities toward their natal families, give
land and inheritance rights for women, increase flexibility around the
one-child policy, and implement and expand the social security system
for the elderly so that parents do not have to become so dependent on
sons for their care and survival.

In addition,
economic support is now being offered to girl-only families in rural
areas. A pilot program begun in 2004 in certain parts of the country
will financially reward those farmers who have no children, have only
one child, or have two female children. The Chinese government
has finally realized that incentives for fewer children work better
than punitive measures and is an important step toward helping
farmers comply with the country’s family planning policy.
According to population expert Liu
Junzhe, this policy is placing more value on human rights. Liu also
believes that the policy may contribute to the modification of traditional
beliefs about male children and subsequently may aid in restoring a
balance to the country’s distorted gender ratio.

What emerges,
then, is that there are both regressive and progressive aspects to the
laws and human realities of China’s family planning policies. Beijing
was given the opportunity to host the Summer Olympics largely because
the Chinese government promised to greatly improve its human rights
record. In reality, Chinese authorities
are reported to have greatly restricted the movements of
numerous human rights defenders
-both
Chinese and foreign–and many have been detained or were denied visas
so they would be unable to travel to Beijing during the Olympics.

As I marvel
at the Chinese women athletes who demonstrate their impressive physical
and mental prowess as they run, jump, spin, bicycle, swim, dive, tumble,
wrestle, and somersault through the air, I wonder what the future of
their lives, rights, and status in society will be. The 29th
Olympiad will end, but the power, worth, contributions, and value of
Chinese women and girls never will.

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

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A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.

News Politics

Former Klan Leader on Senate Run: My Views Are Now the ‘GOP Mainstream’

Teddy Wilson

David Duke has been a fervent support of the Trump campaign, and has posted dozens of messages in support of Trump on Twitter. Duke has often used the hashtag #TrumpWasRight.

David Duke, convicted felon, white supremacist, and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, announced Friday that he will run for U.S. Senate in Louisiana, Roll Call reported.

Duke said that after a “great outpouring of overwhelming support,” he will campaign for the open Senate seat vacated by former Republican Sen. David Vitter, who lost a bid for Louisiana governor in a runoff election.

Duke’s announcement comes the day after Donald Trump accepted the GOP nomination in the midst of growing tensions over race relations across the country. Trump has been criticized during the campaign for his rhetoric, which, his critics say, mainstreams white nationalism and provokes anxiety and fear among students of color.

His statements about crime and immigration, particularly about immigrants from Mexico and predominantly Muslim countries, have been interpreted by outlets such as the New York Times as speaking to some white supporters’ “deeper and more elaborate bigotry.”

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Duke said in his campaign announcement that he was the first candidate to promote the policy of “America first,” echoing a line from Trump’s nomination acceptance speech on Thursday night.

“The most important difference between our plan and that of our opponents, is that our plan will put America First,” Trump said Thursday night. “As long as we are led by politicians who will not put America First, then we can be assured that other nations will not treat America with respect.”

Duke said his platform has become “the GOP mainstream” and claimed credit for propelling Republicans to control of Congress in 2010. He said he is “overjoyed to see Donald Trump … embrace most of the issues I’ve championed for years.”

Trump in February declined to disavow the support of a white supremacist group and Duke, saying he knew “nothing about David Duke” and knew “nothing about white supremacists.” He later clarified that he rejected their support, and blamed his initial failure to disavow Duke on a “bad earpiece.”

Trump’s candidacy has also brought to light brought many incidents of anti-Semitism, much of which has been directed at journalists and commentators covering the presidential campaign.

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro wrote in the National Review that Trump’s nomination has “drawn anti-Semites from the woodwork,” and that the Republican nominee has been willing to “channel the support of anti-Semites to his own ends.”

Duke took to Twitter after Trump’s acceptance speech Thursday to express his support for the Republican nominee’s vision for America.

“Great Trump Speech, America First! Stop Wars! Defeat the Corrupt elites! Protect our Borders!, Fair Trade! Couldn’t have said it better!” Duke tweeted.

Duke has been a fervent Trump supporter, and has posted dozens of messages in support of Trump on Twitter. Duke has often used the hashtag #TrumpWasRight.

Duke was elected to the Louisiana house in 1989, serving one term. Duke was the Republican nominee for governor in 1991, and was defeated by Democrat Edwin Edwards.

Duke, who plead guilty in 2002 to mail fraud and tax fraud, has served a year in federal prison.