Qian Liu: Single Women’s Frozen Eggs Threaten Chinese Communist Party’s “Harmonious Society” Project?

Friday, August 7, 2015

For many women living in China, state and familial pressures mean that procreation is only possible within heterosexual marriage, and before the ripe old age of 27. For a single Chinese woman who has other ideas about bearing children there are very few options. There are even less options if your choice is to use assisted reproductive technologies, such as freezing your eggs. Although this technology is highly demanded by Chinese single women, especially those who are labelled as “leftover” (unmarried women older than 27), the only way to have access to this new reproductive technology would be through the black market or by travelling abroad.

China has long prohibited offering assisted reproductive technologies to single women. This rarely discussed but commonly known policy has now become a hot topic worldwide after a famous 41-year-old Chinese actress and film director, Xu Jinglei, announced that she had traveled to the U.S. in 2013 to freeze her eggs. At long last, the issues of “leftover” women’s reproductive rights are being discussed outside of academic circles.

The state’s response to the Xu Jinglei egg-crisis once again proves that it still uses policies and the media to push women into marriage by reinforcing that marriage is the prerequisite of childbearing. Women are regarded as breeding machines and guardians of family and social stability.

The publicity around Xu Jinglei’s egg retrieval story has caused the Chinese government to be anxious over what other “leftover” women in China might do in light of Xu’s experience. The government has used several state-run media outlets to publish a series of articles aimed at convincing “leftover” women that they should get married and have children rather than store their eggs.

On the one hand, the state-run media emphasizes that the procedures of egg retrieval and storage are far more complicated than what people think they are, and that the success rate is low (less than 30%).One more reason, they assert, is that women should give birth at an early age. For example, Xinhuanet, a prominent news website ran by the predominant Chinese official press agency Xinhua, reported on its website that “the national health and family planning commission suggests that women should get pregnant in their prime child-bearing years, between 24 and 29. Pregnancy at over 35 can be dangerous to both mother and fetus.”  

On the other hand, the state-run media explicitly reaffirmed that it is not possible for a single woman to have access to assisted reproductive technologies in China. China Central Television reported that single women cannot use their frozen eggs to get pregnant because this is at odds with the national population and family planning laws and regulations.

What could possibly motivate the state-run media to intimidate women in this way?  One answer is that single women having complete control over their reproduction threatens the “harmonious society” project and population control system of the Chinese Communist Party (the CCP). If the nation’s “breeding machines” delay their marriages or give birth out of wedlock, the government loses control over its most basic measures for population control. And along the way the long established social control system that considers the traditional nuclear family as the “basic cell” of the societal structure will be threatened. What’s more, the failure of “surplus” men to get married becomes an even bigger concern for a government seeking to maintain the social order. This is because the state assumes that single men without a wife or family to discipline them would be more likely to commit crime or destroy social stability. 

The “harmonious society” project was launched by Hu Jintao, the former president of the People’s Republic of China, to solve social conflicts and ensure social stability. The All China Women’s Federation (the ACWF), which is the world’s largest women’s organization but also the women’s arm of the CCP, has carried out a campaign to build “harmonious families” by advocating the patriarchal cultural understanding of family/marriage and women’s roles as wives and mothers. Rather than challenging patriarchal thoughts that contribute to the phenomenon of “leftover” women, the ACWF emphasizes the importance of monogamous families and reinforces the established gender ideology in the media. What’s more, the ACWF plays an important role in the media campaign of “rescuing” “leftover” women by blaming them as picky, selfish and money-oriented women, and putting forward suggestions on how they can become attractive to men on their website.

At the same time, the desires of single women to give birth are used by the state as tools to push young women into heterosexual marriage at an early age through the prohibition of out-of-wedlock childbearing and exaggerating the dangers of giving birth after their twenties.

I understand the importance of maintaining social stability and dealing with the consequences caused by the One-Child Policy in China. Population control is critical. But China, as a powerful nation, should not impose these responsibilities onto women’s shoulders and take it for granted that every woman should sacrifice their life plans for a certain ideal of the family and the state. 

Qian Liu is a PhD student in the Faculty of Law, University of Victoria

Russomanno and MacDonnell in the Ottawa Citizen: Ottawa's Strange Indifference to "Street Checks"

Criminal lawyer Leo Russomanno and University of Ottawa Professor Vanessa MacDonnell published the following op-ed on "street checks" in the Ottawa Citizen on August 6, 2015: 

Earlier this year, Desmond Cole authored a startling account of his experiences with “carding” in Toronto and elsewhere in Ontario. Cole, who is black, spoke of being stopped and questioned by police approximately 50 times. The story ran in Toronto Life Magazine against the backdrop of mounting criticism of carding.

It galvanized the public against the practice. The voices of opposition grew louder. Even the mayor of Toronto weighed in. The Toronto Police Services Board decided that it would permit a limited form of carding to continue while the province completed its study of the issue and proposed regulations. Critics of carding in Toronto, including Cole, remain unsatisfied and engaged.

Compare this to what happened last week at a meeting of the Ottawa Police Services Board. When Inspector Mark Patterson of the Ottawa Police Service presented a report showing that visible minorities are overrepresented among individuals subjected to “street checks”, the reaction was noticeably different. No questions were asked about the evidence of systemic racism revealed by the data, or any other aspect of the report for that matter. In an interview following the meeting, board chair Eli El-Chantiry came out strongly in favour of the lawfulness and utility of street checks. He categorically rejected the possibility that they were conducted in a racially discriminatory manner.

The numbers speak for themselves. In a city in which 5.7 per cent of the population is black, 20 per cent of those subjected to street checks are black. Although less than 5 per cent of the Ottawa population is of Middle Eastern origin, 14 per cent of street checks involved individuals identified as being Middle Eastern.

So why the lack of outrage? Is it because Cole’s narrative was personal, while the individuals in the Ottawa Police Service’s report are nameless, faceless statistics? Is it because the Ottawa police refer to the practice as a “street check” rather than “carding”? Is it something else?

After all, Ottawa has seen its share of high profile cases involving racial discrimination by police. Ottawa newspapers have covered the issue of street checks extensively. When the board met to discuss the police service’s report, one of the authors of this op-ed, Leo Russomanno, gave submissions urging them to seek an explanation for why visible minorities are overrepresented in the data. He also questioned the propriety of carding more broadly. Juxtaposed with the reaction in Toronto, the indifference of the board and other city officials – including the mayor – is jarring.

There is no doubt that the legal framework that governs police interactions with the public is complex. The law looks something like this. The police are only permitted to detain an individual when they have “reasonable suspicion” that the individual is involved in criminal activity. Absent reasonable suspicion, the police are, of course, allowed to question anyone, but an individual is always free to end the discussion. Detention is therefore a key concept in this context.

In the Supreme Court’s decision in Suberu, the Court explained that an individual is detained where “the officer’s conduct in the context of the encounter as a whole would cause a reasonable person in the same situation to conclude that he or she was not free to go and that he or she had to comply with the officer’s request.” In another case, Grant, the Supreme Court stated that a person’s race may be relevant in determining whether a person is detained. The court likely included this factor because racialized communities have historically been unfair targets of police scrutiny. If an individual is detained for questioning, his right to counsel and right to know the reasons for detention are triggered. When an individual chooses to exercise his right to counsel, the police may not question him further until he has spoken to a lawyer. This spells the end of the informal encounter.

The Ottawa Police Service’s report provides some clues about the types of circumstances in which this police service believes a street check will be justified: where there is “a strange van parked outside of an industrial complex late at night, an unknown individual talking to a known street gang member or a suspicious individual found late at night in a neighbourhood victimized by crime.” None of these examples meets the standard of reasonable suspicion. For these stops to be lawful, in other words, a reasonable person would have to believe that he is free to walk away.

Most people, if approached by a uniformed police officer, would feel obliged to stay put and cooperate. As the Supreme Court has recognized, this reality is even more pronounced when the individual stopped is a visible minority. This suggests that many of the individuals subjected to street checks in Ottawa may have been unlawfully detained. While advising individuals of their right to walk away during a street check might strengthen the argument that that the individual was not detained, Patterson is on record as saying that such a warning would “defeat the purpose” of street checks. It it deeply problematic that the police would knowingly take advantage of an individual’s ignorance of his or her rights to advance a police investigation.

We owe a debt of thanks to Desmond Cole for putting a human face on this troubling police practice. It is now time for the citizens of Ottawa and their elected representatives to do more to address systemic racism in our police force.

Leo Russomanno is a criminal lawyer practicing at Abergel Goldstein & Partners. Vanessa MacDonnell is a professor at the University of Ottawa, where she teaches criminal and constitutional law. They tweet at @len_1989 and @vanessa_macd, respectively.

Shelagh Day: UN Human Rights Committee Blasts Canada on Gender Wage Gap

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Canada’s human rights performance was just reviewed by the United Nations Human Rights Committee. A number of Canadian NGOs made submissions and went to Geneva for the review, including the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, which is an alliance of more than sixty national, provincial and local women’s organizations.
In its Concluding Observations, the United Nations Committee took Canada to task for “persistent inequalities between women and men” and made a special point about Canada’s gender wage gap, which costs women about 23 cents on every dollar.[1] According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report of 2014, Canada’s wage equality ranks in 27th place behind the Philippines, Nigeria and Albania.[2] A study by Catalyst Canada shows that Canada’s gender wage gap is twice the global average.[3]

When Canada was questioned by Committee members during the review, the Canadian delegation demonstrated no concern about the gender pay gap. The delegation informed the Committee that if we subtracted from the calculation women’s family status, time out of the work force to look after children, and occupation, women would earn 91 cents for every male dollar. It was an astounding reply: if women were the same as men, they would be paid more. That’s the problem alright, but it’s not the answer.

Canada’s disinterest contrasts with the concern shown in another Conservative-led country, the United Kingdom, where Prime Minister David Cameron recently announced that his government will require firms with more than 250 employees to publish the average pay of male and female employees. Cameron hopes that this will pressure firms into boosting women’s wages, and that the pay gap will be eliminated in a generation. The Office of National Statistics reports the gender wage gap in the U.K. at 9.4%, less than half of Canada’s.

As a strategy, Cameron’s requirement on firms to publish their pay data, with nothing else, is not likely to be effective. Nonetheless, it is refreshing to a Canadian ear to hear a Prime Minister recognize that employment discrimination remains a regular, and unacceptable, feature of women’s lives.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee told Canada to “guarantee that men and women receive equal pay for work of equal value across its territory” whether they are working in the public or the private sector. Implementing this recommendation means a big change in Canada’s laws on women’s pay.

Equal pay for work of equal value – or pay equity – laws go beyond requiring that men and women receive the same pay when doing the same work. Pay equity laws permit comparisons between pay rates for work performed principally by women and pay rates for work performed principally by men.

Since the 1980s, Canada has had pay equity legislation that covers both the public and private sectors only in federal jurisdiction, Ontario and Quebec. Because in 2009, the Harper administration gutted pay equity protection for employees of the federal government, the federal public sector can no longer be counted as covered, although the federal private sector still is.

Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island all have legislation mandating some pay equity measures for the public sector, but not for the private sector. Saskatchewan, Newfoundland, British Columbia, and Alberta have no pay equity legislation at all.
In a workforce like Canada’s, which remains highly sex-segregated, legislation requiring comparison between pay rates for traditionally female work and traditionally male work is an essential tool to address systemic gender-based wage discrimination. But it is not the only one. Pay equity laws need to be accompanied by other strategies, such as removing discriminatory barriers to better-paying jobs, promoting unionization of women, increasing the minimum wage, and providing affordable child care.

In 2015 it is time for Canada to have a national wage gap strategy that can deliver equality in pay to women. If we do not, at the rate we are going, women will wait another fifty years.

This column was first published in the Canadian Human Rights Reporter’s View Point, Issue 165. Shelagh Day is the President and Senior Editor of the Canadian Human Rights Reporter. 

[1] This is the 2011 Statistics Canada figure for Canada.
[2] Ricardo Husmann et al, The Global Gender Gap Report 2014 (Geneva: World Economic Forum, 2014), at 65, online:  <http://www3.weforum.org/docs/GGGR14/GGGR_CompleteReport_2014.pdf> 
[3] The Globe and Mail, “Gender pay gap in Canada more than twice global average, study shows” 5 May 2015,  online: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/gender-pay-gap-in-canada-more-than-twice-global-average-study-shows/article24274586/
Designed by Rachel Gold.