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George Washington University Law School

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

NPC Standing Committee outlaws sexual harassment

Prefatory note: Actually, the heading for this post is misleading -- the NPC Standing Committee has prohibited something described by the term 性骚扰, conventionally translated as "sexual harassment". Whether it has actually prohibited the acts that in English are called "sexual harassment" remains to be seen, because the Chinese term is not defined in the law.

The current session of the NPC Standing Committee today (August 28) passed a resolution amending several sections of the Law for the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Women (妇女权益保障法). The amendments, to be effective as of Dec. 1, 2005, include provisions against sexual harassment, but the concrete scope of the prohibition is not clear.

Art. 40 states: "Sexual harassment of women is prohibited. The injured woman has the right to complain to the work unit and the relevant department." (禁止对妇女实施性骚扰。受害妇女有权向单位和有关机关投诉.) Art. 58 states that where an incident of sexual harassment or domestic violence constitutes a violation of the Security Administration Punishment Regulations, the victim may request the police to impose punishment under those regulations (but surely this is already so), and may also bring a civil action in court for damages. Unfortunately, the amendments fail to define sexual harassment or the measure of damages.

Many of the amendments do not seem particularly earthshaking and are largely statements of principle with little or no concrete legal effect. Some examples:

  • The equality of men and women is declared to be a basic state principle, while at the same time the law declares that the state shall protect the special rights and interests enjoyed by women under law (Art. 2). It is also forbidden in the same Article to discriminate against, mistreat, abandon, or harm women, but it is hard to see how, in the Chinese context, concrete rights might flow from this vague norm. (And whatever these terms mean, does the law condone doing them to men?)
  • Art. 6 declares that people's governments at all levels must stress and strengthen the work of protecting women's rights and interests.
  • Art. 10 states that women and women's organizations have the right to make suggestions to state organs at all levels regarding the protection of women's rights and interests. The right to make suggestions is something currently enjoyed by all citizens (although of course nobody has the right to see his or her suggestions adopted).
  • Art. 11 states the people's congresses at all levels as well as villagers' and residents' committees should have an "appropriate" (适当) number of women, but appropriate is not defined.
  • Art. 12 imposes the same obligation (if it can be called that) on state organs, social groups, enterprises, and institutions to have an "appropriate" number of women in leading positions. One wonders if this will apply to the Party itself.

Other provisions have more bite. For example, Art. 16 explicitly prohibits schools from rejecting students on the basis of sex or raising admission standards for women, except in the case of undefined "particular specialties" (特殊专业).

I don't have the time to go into all the amendments here, but there are many. I will post an English summary when one becomes available.

Web references:

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/china_law_prof_blog/2005/08/npc_standing_co.html

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