International Women’s Day was marked worldwide on March 8 with tributes ranging from celebrations of respect, appreciation and love towards women to commemorations of their economic, political and social achievements.
But in China the event was preceded by arrests of some women’s rights activists.
Authorities detained at least 10 women’s rights activists over the weekend to forestall a nationwide campaign against sexual harassment on public transportation that was to overlap with International Women’s Day, according to human rights advocates and associates of those detained, said the New York Times.
That’s like showing support for women’s rights with events in shopping malls where men wearing high heels race through obstacle courses.
Oh, wait. That actually happened.
As of Monday evening, at least five of the activists were still in custody but it remains unclear what the allegations against the women are.
According to activists who worked closely with the detained women, the arrests were made just a day before several small-scale actions were planned, the Huffington Post reported.
Women in different Chinese cities planned to highlight sexual harassment on public transportation by putting stickers on buses saying “Catch sexual harassers: come get’em, police!”
They were also going to hand out leaflets.
I don’t know about you, but getting locked up in some detention cell before distributing even a single flyer seems a little harsh.
The women detained are Li Tingting, Wei Tingting, Zheng Churan, Wu Rongrong and Wang Man, who were picked up by police in Beijing, Guangzhou and Hangzhou in a coordinated dragnet.
Li is a young activist best known for her work against domestic abuse and a campaign for more public toilets for women, reported Quartz.
“They have not given information on why she was detained, but my guess is that it has something to do with maintaining social stability on International Women’s Day,” Li’s lawyer, Yan Xin, told Reuters.
Wang Qiushi, a lawyer representing Wei, told NY Times: “We’ve always thought the country supports equal rights for women. Speaking as a lawyer, this act is beyond our imagination and has shocked us.”
An activist who asked not to be named told Quartz that “police have sought out many other feminist organizers throughout the country as well, and many demonstrations have been forcibly cancelled.”
Feng Yuan, founder and executive director of the Hangzhou-based rights group Women Center, said the detained activists had observed previous International Women’s Days in similar ways but without interference, reported The Guardian.
Ironically, the National People’s Congress, in the final days of its annual session, conducted a press conference on Saturday on gender equality and women’s rights issues in China.
According to reports, police in Beijing, Guangzhou and Hangzhou, where the activists were arrested, did not respond to requests for comment.
Elsewhere, hundreds of thousands took to the streets to celebrate International Women’s Day.
In New York City, a crowd stretching about seven blocks—from Times Square on 42nd Street to 35th Street—marched shouting: “What do we want? Gender equality. When do we want it? Now.”
Similar global gatherings were seen worldwide.
In Hong Kong, International Women’s Day came and went with barely a whimper.
According to the South China Morning Post, they could only identify four events to mark the day compared with more than 400 in Britain, nearly 250 in the US and more than 130 in Australia.
In another bit of irony, the United Nations celebration highlighted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a historic roadmap signed by 189 governments 20 years ago in Beijing that sets the agenda for realizing women’s rights.
Fittingly, Quartz said that China “completely flunked” International Women’s Day.
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