Advocating for change in China

Justice4Her has booked two further advocacy successes recently – influencing anti-domestic violence legislation in the Chinese province of Guizhou and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Extra measures to protect vulnerable groups, more awareness raising activities by public organisations and more attention for the prevention of domestic violence are among the suggestions adopted by the authorities based on submissions from Justice4Her and its partner Beijing Qianqian law firm.

RNW Media’s cross-sector Justice4Her project aims to strengthen the rule of law to reduce gender-based violence against China’s millions of women migrant workers. It was set up in 2016 to mark the milestone of China’s first National Anti-Domestic Violence Law being taken into effect. Right from the start, Justice4her and its strategic partner Beijing Qianqian Law Firm, have advocated to advance the implementation of the law at both national and provincial level. Advocacy for legal change requires long-term dedication and persistent effort and the project’s success can partly be measured in the progress it has made from responding to open government calls for comment to being specifically invited to contribute to draft regulations as recognised experts in the field of anti-GBV legislation.

Windows for advocacy
In China, it is usual for provincial congresses to formulate their own regulations to implement national laws within their province. Once these regulations have been drafted, it is common practice to publish them online and invite the public and legal experts and relevant organisations to give feedback. Such moments are an ideal opportunity for Chinese grassroots civil society organisations to exert their influence and are seen as ‘windows for advocacy’.

Seizing the chance
Justice4Her first made use of such a window in late 2018 when it was offering a capacity strengthening workshop to a group of Chinese pro bono lawyers. The training was in its second day when a member of the team saw that the Congress of Hubei Province had published a draft of its new domestic violence regulations online and was inviting comment. Under the guidance of a senior lawyer from Qianqian law firm the group formulated and submitted 24 constructive suggestions. When the new law was published six months later, six of those suggestions had been incorporated. (More information here).

Power of the network
The route to successful advocacy was a different one in Inner Mongolia. With funding from EUAid, Justice4her had set up a legal aid network of pro-bono lawyers in 2018 which now has 286 members who provide legal support directly to survivors of GBV referred to them from Justice4Her’s online platforms. The lawyers also share and exchange experience, knowledge and information with their peers. In 2018, a core member of the network Mr. Wang Yulin, who is director of Shangheng Law Firm and advisor to the Women’s Federation of Inner Mongolia, learned that the Congress of Inner Mongolia was planning to invite feedback on their draft version of the Anti-Domestic Violence Law. Wang presented local policy makers with Justice4Her’s successful experience in Hubei Province and Qianqian Law firm was invited to review the draft as an expert organisation.

More prevention, more reporting
Qianqian quickly gathered a group of experienced lawyers and, after a week’s work, 20 suggestions were submitted directly to the law makers. When the final version of the law was published in April 2020, 10 of those suggestions had been adopted – three as a direct copy-paste while seven other clauses had been rewritten to incorporate the feedback. The changes mean the local government will pay more attention to the prevention of domestic violence and vulnerable groups such as the elderly, pregnant women and the seriously ill will be given special protection and priority services. Other new additions were a clause stating that the police must issue a caution within 72 hours of accepting a report of domestic violence and a clause ensuring that any individual has the right to discourage, stop, and report on ongoing domestic violence.

Talking to policymakers
Cooperation with policymakers is vital for policy and/or law change in China, and Justice4her, RNW Media and Beijing Qianqian Law Firm actively develop and maintain relationships with different stakeholders to facilitate meaningful dialogue with change-makers and policymakers. In August 2019 Qianqian Law Firm was approached by the Congress of Guizhou province and invited as an external expert to give suggestions to their draft version of the Anti-Domestic Violence Law. Justice4Her’s pro-bono lawyer network then submitted 30 suggestions, and in this case, one of those suggestions was adopted. Mr Lv Xiaoquan, the Executive director of Qianqian Law Firm and manager of the pro-bono lawyer network commented:

‘Few changes were made in the final version of the Guizhou provincial Anti-Domestic Violence Law compared to its draft, personally I’m disappointed with the outcome, but I am still proud that there is still one suggestion adopted, especially considering it is the very first provincial anti-domestic violence law in the west part of China’.

Varied advocacy activities
As well as working directly to influence provincial legislation, Justice4Her works to achieve its goals via a number of other advocacy activities. Extensive research, for example, resulted in a Report on Gender-based Violence among Migrant Women in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen which was shared with deputies of the National People’s Congress (NPC). One deputy presented suggestions from the report during the National People‘s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. The Justice4Her team also regularly run social media campaigns to raise awareness of the issues and works with mainstream media and journalists to improve reporting on GBV-related issues.