Yesterday, at a U.N. summit meeting on women’s rights hosted by, of all nations, China and its president, Xi Jinping, we learned that China will “reaffirm our commitment to gender equality and women’s development,” according to Xi. So far, that reaffirmation has failed to recover the human rights of five Chinese female/feminist activists who were imprisoned earlier this year and released on bail while still living under state-imposed restrictions on what they can do and say. The five Chinese feminists wrote to the U.N. demanding that their cases be dropped by the Chinese government. Xi has said, however, that human rights are all in the eye of the beholder:
“We must recognize that countries have different historical processes and realities, that we need to respect people of all countries in the right to choose their own development independently.”
Xi’s defense of limits on human rights goes back to the so-called “Asian values” of the Bangkok Declaration of 1993: human rights are great, but “social harmony” and authoritarian control are more truly Asian than is democracy, a convenient policy if you happen to be an Asian political leader. But human rights (women are indisputably human) must be universal if they are to have any meaning at all. Governments cannot pick and choose which human rights they will allow and protect, which is why the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights was created right after WWII in 1948. China signed that document, as did the United States. The UDHR does not accept authoritarian or other politically expedient exceptions.
And the United States, now that it has again disavowed “enhanced interrogation”/torture, also needs to do better to improve the rights of women. This from the NY Times:
A World Bank study this month said the United States was one of four countries around the world with no national laws requiring paid parental leave. The United States has also not met the global target for having women make up at least 30 percent of its legislature, and its share of roughly 19 percent is significantly lower than that of many countries in the world.
Let’s not forget the wage gap between men and women in the U.S. either.
So while the U.S. should continue to put pressure on China to fully abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we as a nation must also address the rights of women, including the right to health care, easily obtained contraception and a legal, safe abortion.