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Women in China are embracing more choices of life styles with internet, financial independence

作者:admin 2020-12-04

Women in China are embracing more choices of life styles with internet, financial independence

Photo: CFP

Su Min finally escaped, after 30 years of fulfilling her "duties" as a wife, mother and grandmother.

This week she is in Southwest China's Yunnan Province, driving a caravan by herself. She visited the world's biggest prayer wheel in Shangri-la and the iconic Three Pagodas in Dali.

Su, 56, is a housewife from Central China's Henan Province. Her married life was a cliché of millions of Chinese women - she raised her daughter and then her grandson while her husband barely cares for anything at home.

She had planned for a whole year and secretly saved money. Three month ago, she finally left everything behind and started her journey across China alone.

"This is the first time I feel free. The darkest time has passed. I don't want to work for everybody anymore," Su said in her vlog on TikTok.

Su's story has inspired many. "You represent so many traditional Chinese women, but you are beyond most of them," read a comment.

According to traditional values in China, women should stay at home, support their husbands, and raise and teach their
children. The idea has been deeply ingrained in many people's mentality throughout China, especially less-developed rural regions.

But the situation is changing with the rise of internet access and more women leaving their hometown as migrant workers. 

In recent years, more reports have surfaced chronicling women seeking freedom, a new life and even true love. Data showed that divorces in rural areas among people aged 20 to 59 more than doubled between 2005 and 2015, from 9.42 to 21.26 per every 1,000 married couples.

Along with these empowered women's stories is people's awareness on gender equality, domestic violence and women's rights, as well as strengthened legal protections, experts and lawyers reached by the Global Times said.

Women in China have more choices than before.

Finding freedom and love

Wang Hong (pseudonym) decided to use all of her savings, 30,000 yuan ($4,563), to hire a lawyer and sue for divorce.

Her husband raped her and subjected her to 18 years of emotional abuse.

Wang's husband was a shepherd in the mountains of Beijing, a taciturn and eccentric person spending most of his time with sheep, ignoring his familial responsibilities. Wang said her life was dominated by housework as if she was a free nanny without any care from her husband.

Wang felt it was her duty to serve her husband and look after the children, but that all changed when she watched an emotional analysis program titled "The Defense of Love," she said. The program helped her realize her marriage was not normal.

"I tried to communicate with my husband, wishing he could at least help me with some housework when I was sick, but the response I got was still a cold shoulder. At that point, I knew my marriage didn't seem right to continue, and I started researching online to try to figure out what I should be doing," Wang told the Global Times. 

While negotiating a divorce, Wang was raped by her husband and wounded by him. Wang gathered evidence, called the police and sought a lawyer with the knowledge she had learned from the internet.

"The lawsuit cost me almost all my money, but I know I made the right decision. Now I'm free, I have my own job and I just need to live for myself," Wang said.

Zhang Jing was the lawyer who helped Wang escape. "Many people think that an unhappy marriage is a shameful thing. In the past, even in the face of great pain, Chinese rural women were not accustomed to asking for help to defend their legitimate rights and interests in marriage. To my regret, one of the most common words I hear when I talk to them is 'I'm used to it'," Zhang told the Global Times. "But now, I've seen more rural women start to speak up for themselves," she said. 

In an article published in late October, writer Mei Xiao shared a strange phenomenon that happened in her hometown county in North China's Hebei Province - the number of single fathers in town is increasing.

The less-developed and traditional Hebei counties had been deeply haunted by the idea of "son preference," causing a sharp gender imbalance. Many young women have desperately left their hometowns through education, further deepening this imbalance.

When young men could not find women of their age to marry, they turn to the older, married ones, which led many married women to get divorced or run away with their young lovers. 

"The number of full families dropped rapidly. Many families consist of a single father and a child. The mother has long left…" she wrote.

In 2018, the divorce rate in Hebei was 42.5 percent, the sixth highest in China.

Wen, a lawyer at a Xi'an law firm, said reactionary thinking in the rural areas leaves some residents believing a high bride price means women are their property. Living in rural and less industrialized areas also restricts women's ability to leave violent relationships. 

Many of Wen's clients have similar experiences to Wang's.

Women in remote rural areas are more likely to be isolated and must travel greater distances to get support from family and friends, and to access police. This is why women in rural areas of China are more likely to experience domestic violence than women living in major metropolitan centers, Wen said.

Positive process

Chinese women suffering gender violence and inequality can finally seek their own happiness thanks to comprehensive efforts, including legal protections, support from society - especially from other women - and the China's increasing mobility and digitalization.

China has several laws that directly protect women's rights and interests. 

The country's New Marriage Law has been amended four times since it was first enacted in 1950, and the latest version of Family Copy in Civil Law Code will take effect next year. In 2016, China's Anti-Domestic Violence Law took effect. In 2005, China revised the Law on the Protection of Rights and Interests of Women promulgated in 1992.

Organizations and individuals, like Zhang and Wang's divorce lawyer, share the information of these legal tools to those who need them.

Since 2013, Zhang has collaborated with China National Radio for a rural legal awareness program, introducing laws and regulations related to marriage in rural areas. The show has always had a high listenership.

"Previously, rural women had very limited access to legal information, even if they were aware of their rights. Now, the popularity of Douyin, Sina Weibo and other social networks allows them to better see the outside world, and also gain more knowledge of ways to improve their marital status," Zhang said.

A women's hotel that operated for 24 years and costs only 5 yuan ($0.76) a night in Jilin city, North China's Jilin Province, has recently sparked heated discussion on the internet, as most of the guests were married women who had escaped after being abused by their husbands. 

Although located in an old building with shabby decor and unsanitary conditions, the 10-bunk-beds remain a haven for many helpless women, where they stick together, share their tragedies, find jobs together, and take care of each other by raising money for medical care when they were ill.

In addition to more teams of public interest attorneys bringing legal awareness activities to rural areas, grassroots police stations, women's federations and village committees have also joined together to form a strong social support networks to actively intervene and mediate in the marriage problems of rural families, Zhang said. "Rural women are getting more help and have become more emboldened in marriage," she commented.

It shows a rise of gender equality, Luo Ruixue, a member of the Guangzhou-based women's rights protection group Women Awakening Network, told the Global Times.

Women are seeing more with the availability of smartphones. Previously they might feel divorce is shameful or a failure, but now, with the changing cultural trends, these women have been influenced by new ideas, Luo said.

With the development of the society, there are more working opportunities for women that allow them to have a financial basis and quit their miserable marriages, Luo noted.

The gender equality awareness has not only risen among women, but also among men. In the past, people just saw something as "traditional," but now they could see the "uncomfortable" parts in it and discuss it, which is a positive process, she said.

Zhang Yutong contributed to the story

Posted in: IN-DEPTH

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