Celebrating the stories of Chinese women

Justice4Her recently held its second cross sector summit, bringing together key opinion leaders and policy makers to discuss gender-based violence and strategies to promote gender equality. Media professionals, gender research experts, book publishers, performers, writers and internet influencers joined the event in person while live streaming reached an audience of more than 30,000 online. The summit focused on Justice4Hers HerStory narrative project which aimed to empower Chinese women by encouraging them to raise their voices and share their stories with the world.

RNW Media’s Justice4Her project is co-funded by EUAid and works to strengthen the rule of law to reduce gender-based violence (GBV) against China’s millions of women migrant workers. The project also aims to empower young Chinese women to challenge the restrictive gender norms they often face. The HerStory Narrative Project was launched in November 2019 by Justice4Her along with Chinese Internet giant Baidu and Wenzhi Books, a division of China’s biggest private publisher, Mo Tie Books. Women were invited to share their stories and experiences in their own words and almost 7,000 stories were collected over a seven-month period.

“I knew a woman in the market. She’s divorced and got kicked out of the house by her ex-husband. She has to work hard in Tianjin by herself to support her 8-year-old son. The only so-called accommodation she has is a bathroom in KFC next to the market. She drags her big suitcase around and amongst everything she carries, there are always two soaps – one for washing hands, the other for her face. I wonder if this is what we might call resilience, how a woman’s hope for a better life is kept alive by two soaps.”  

Celebrating HERstories
This is the HerStory shared at the summit by MeiRuo who works in the Beijing Hongyan Social Work Service Center. She was one of several speakers at the summit which was also an occasion to celebrate the stories collected. Originally the summit was planned to be a much larger event but the ongoing Corona pandemic meant it was re-imagined as a much smaller gathering livestreamed via Baidu. This video gives a breif overview of the summit (English sub-titles).

Gender identity
Analysis showed that Mother and Woman were the two words most frequently used in the stories received, highlighting how deeply gender identity is embedded in women’s narratives. The most popular topics for the writers were gender stereotypes, social security, sexual assault and violence within an intimate relationship. There were also a number of stories about the problems caused by COVID-19, such as unpaid care work and the ways in which women have been fighting the pandemic.

During the first part of the Summit, a panel of invited guests including a famous writer, performers, influencers and the founder of a women’s short video project discussed the diversity of gender identity and the many possibilities of ‘being’ for women.

Social justice for all
The second part of the summit featured speakers from UNWOMEN China, Justice4Her partner Beijing Qianqian law firm and a number of relevant NGOs. They were able to share different perspectives from their areas of expertise about how to build a more gender-friendly world and achieve social justice for all women.

Prize-winning story
A jury composed of famous scholar Dai Jinhua, writer Jiang Fangzhou, young scholar Zhang Huiyu, media personality Dan Bao, and Mo Tie Wenzhi Book’s Editor-in-chief Yu Bei had selected prizewinners from among the stories submitted and the summit ended with the host calling first prize winner Ms Xin Wei Mu who thanked the organisers and called for more attention for women’s storytelling. The jury also shared their comments and congratulations via video, encouraging women to express themselves bravely and to write about their diverse, true, and vivid life experiences.

The Girl on the Moon
Xin Wei Mu’s prize-winning story was called The Girl on the Moon. It is the story of Sun Yue, a girl from Shanghai who goes to the USA to study medicine. She begins a relationship with a fellow medical student. They have sex for the first time on their first trip back to China together. It feels wrong to Sun and she begs her boyfriend to stop but he doesn’t. She is left wondering why she’s reluctant to have any kind of intimate contact with another person. Sun then comes across a brochure about asexuality in an LGBTQ centre which resonates with her.

Sun never told anyone about what happened that night with her boyfriend, not even her mum who, despite having depression, has made every effort to make sure Sun has all the support she needs to persue her dream. Sun can’t share the fact that she might not be able to love anyone in her life and the reason why she doesn’t want to marry this man. She’s on a flight back to America, flying into a future that her parents think is best for her but only she knows that everything has changed.