Chinese universities told to improve sexual harassment policies


China's education ministry has urged universities to improve the way they handle allegations of sexual harassment, such as special committees to tackle the problem, according to state media reports.

Since the #MeToo feminist movement gained global momentum, several high-profile cases of sexual harassment and assault have come to light in China.

Several allegations have involved professors at elite institutions including Peking University, Beihang University and Sun Yat-sen University, as well as high-profile figures in the charity, entertainment and media sectors.

The Ministry of Education acknowledged these cases of sexual harassment have "damaged the reputation of higher education institutions and the education system", as well as reflecting "insufficient awareness", China Youth Daily reported on Wednesday.

"At the moment, some higher education institutions have not set up specialist sexual harassment prevention committees," it said.

"We will work with local education authorities to improve mechanisms for sexual harassment prevention."

Last November the ministry had issued a directive banning "improper" relationships between staff and students at higher education institutes and stating a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment.

However, the latest announcement was criticised by the Free Chinese Feminists activist collective for its lack of a clear timeline for implementing specific measures.

The group also criticised the education ministry's previous history of suppressing student activism on this theme.

"From 2018 onwards, the anti-sexual harassment activities from students on campus and those off campus have been suppressed - this is no secret," the collective said.

"By not having a normal attitude towards students' legitimate activities and requests, it's hard for people to have confidence in the education ministry's establishment of an anti-sexual harassment mechanism under such circumstances."

The collective added that the harsh consequences previously faced by student activists, such as being forcibly silenced and having online information deleted, as well as the education ministry's refusal to acknowledge this suppression, had further damaged trust in the initiative.

However, other Chinese feminists such as Li Maizi, also known as Li Tingting, - one of the "feminist five" group of activists who were detained for protesting against sexual harassment in 2015 - cautiously welcomed the move.

"In these circumstances, the Ministry of Education is generally more open and willing to change than other government bodies," Li said.

"However, we need to consider that most university lecturers have no awareness of gender. It may become a problem if the establishment of anti-sexual harassment committees become mere surface decoration in the bureaucratic system."

According to a survey of 4,542 people by the Guangzhou Gender and Sexuality Education Centre in January 2018, 75 per cent of female respondents said they had experienced sexual harassment.

But the global #MeToo movement has led to a wider public awareness of the problem, even though activists have had their allegations censored on social media and faced resistance from authorities.

Since the movement gained traction in China in January 2018, students from more than 50 mainland universities have signed open letters calling for anti-sexual harassment policies on campus, formal reporting systems and harsher consequences for offenders.

While some high-profile figures have been punished, in other cases the universities' responses have been criticised as inadequate.

Source: https://www.bangkokpost.com

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