Preface to Protection of Women’s Social Rights: International and Domestic Perspectives

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By Chen Su, translated by Bi Xiaoqing

Whenever I read writings on women’s rights and interests (including this book), “harmony”, as a prominent and important constructive element, always superimposes the pictures I get from the reading upon those that are already in my mind, interweaves them and reconstructs them into a new picture of social harmony, which is a mixture of experience and imagination. Harmony is indeed a beautiful word. Whether used to depict a natural or social phenomenon, it can always reflect the good tendency rooted deep inside the user’s heart. Today, we are endeavoring to construct a harmonious socialist society, which specifically takes the esthetic word “harmony” and the social element represented by it as a component of the social ideal to which we devote ourselves. This fully demonstrates the trend of development of our social ideals towards the integration of good and beauty.

One precondition for harmony to become a goal of value pursuit is that there exist differences inside the system in which such the process of value pursuit takes place. In short, difference is the precondition of harmony; without difference, there will be no harmony. Just like a picture can not be painted with a single color, the picture of harmony cannot be composed by undifferentiated elements. The differentiation of human beings into men and women constitutes the most basic difference in human society, which determines that the picture of the harmony between men and women is the most basic component of the picture of social harmony. Since the formation of human society, the difference between men and women has been never purely physiological, but also social. As a result, the social process of restructuring gender difference is no longer an adaptive process, but more importantly, also a constructive process. Both historical experience and ideas about reality tell us that the social construction of gender harmony is not only necessary and important, but also possible and inevitable.

The really difficult issue that continuously haunts the thinkers who observe society from gender perspective (like the authors and readers of this book) is not whether we need gender harmony, but what gender harmony is and how to realized gender harmony. When a thinker, as a social subject with independent ability to make his own choice, is located in different social and historical space-time coordinates, the angle from which he observe this issue, the line of thought he follows in analyzing it, and the answers he gives to it must be more complicated or richer in nature and it is difficult for us to make simple judgment on or choice between different angles, lines of thought, or answers. Fortunately, today there are several premises that have been fully proved to be correct: firstly, a historical reflection on the social gender structure and its functions shows that strengthening the protection of women’s rights and interests is necessary for the realization of gender harmony; secondly, a reflection on the experiences gained and lessons learnt from the protection of women’s rights and interests shows that the target effect of protection of women’s rights and interests is closely related to actual social conditions; and thirdly, a reflection on the repeated testing of the theories and policies of protection of women’s rights and interests shows that the assumptions and thinking of protection of women’s rights and interests can be gradually rationalized with the continuous exchange of experiences and confrontation of different ideas. The book “Strengthening the Legal Protection of Women’s Social Rights” is the result of in-depth research by and full exchange of opinions between Chinese and foreign experts and scholars who are concerned with the protection of women’s rights and interests and devoted to the promotion of social harmony and progress on various issues relating to the specialized and systematic legal protection of women’s social rights on the basis of the above-mentioned premises.

It is a universally recognized fact that, during the past several decades of social development and progress, China has made achievements in the protection of women’s rights and interests that can be described as “glorious” and “tremendous”. Indeed, the transformation of women’s role in society from that of the self-deprecating “Second Sex” to that of sublime “Half the Sky” would not have been achieved in just a few decades without many “glorious” and “tremendous” achievements. Today, more and more women are playing crucial roles and making important contributions in various areas and at various levels of the system of social structure and operational mechanisms. From the gender perspective, these roles and contributions make the Chinese society more rational in its structure, more coordinated in its operation, and brighter in its prospect. Nevertheless, many problems remain to be solved: at the level of social ideas, the protection of women’s rights and interests is still treated with indifference, discriminated against, distorted and misunderstood; at the level of social structure, the setting and allocations of women’s rights and interests are still artificially designed and deliberately arranged and, as a result, lack endogenous impetus; at the level of social operation, in the implementation of measures for the protection of women’s rights and interests, it is still a common practice to implement the measures perfunctorily rather than conscientiously, to substitute institutions with slogans, and to explain universal phenomenon with exceptional cases.

Therefore, the continuous advancement of the cause of protection of women’s rights and interests does not reduce our historical responsibility in this area, but, on the contrary, raises more and more new issues for us to solve. This book is valuable for the following reasons: firstly, the academic themes of the book fully reflect the practical needs and characteristics of our times. They are both key theoretical issues in women’s research, human rights research and social law research and important practical issues in the current formulation and implementation of state policies. Secondly, this book embodies very well the transformation of ideas of and approaches to the protection of women’s rights and interests from those of value appeals and policy guidance to those of regulation by law, thereby demonstrating that women’s rights and interests can be protected in a sustainable and effective way by the mechanism of the rule of law only when they have become a part of the system of legal rights. Thirdly, the academic discussions and exchanges of ideas contained in this book are rich, concrete, systematic and in-depth. In a theoretical and institutional framework that covers both human rights law and social law and from the perspectives of both international law and domestic law, the authors of this book carried out explorations on the definitions and values of women’s rights as well as the mechanisms for their protection and realization, touching upon such concrete rights as the right to social security, the right to health and labor rights. The ideas and suggestions they put forward are both theoretically enlightening and practically feasible. Finally, mention must be made of the authors of this book. They are theorists and practitioners who have long been concerned with and dedicated themselves to the protection of women’s rights and interests. For a long period of time, the Center for Gender and Law Studies of CASS Law Institute has been devoted to the exploration of theories and promotion of the practice of protection of women’s rights and interests and maintained a close academic and work relationship with the group of authors in the field of women’s rights. This book is one of the results of this long-term effort.

Personally, I have benefited a lot from this book. Apart from the above reflections, the discussions on the concrete issues and the conclusions drawn from them contained in this book enable me to have a better understanding of the methods of research on the protection of women’s rights and interests. Firstly, the systematic nature of social operation determines that many issues of protection of women’s rights and interests are not merely women’s issues, but can be clearly understood, reasonably explained and effectively solved only when they are placed in a bigger and more complicated background and system. For example, many deep-seated problems of protection of the rights and interests of rural women can be solved only if they are dealt with in light of the current urban-rural dual structure and the deepening of the reform of the operation mechanism of the collective economy in rural areas. Secondly, with the change of social structure, the advantages and disadvantages of different solutions to the same problem of protection of women’s rights and interests may also change. For example, the system of different retirement ages for men and women in China was originally a sacrifice made by women for the solution of the unemployment problem and various other social problems. Especially in a period of low freedom of choice in the social-economic system, women had hardly any opportunity or condition of compensation for such collective sacrifice. However, with the increase of the freedom of choice and the level of social security in the social-economic system, there may be a differentiation of the value assessment among women with different planning of life of the system of different retirement age for men and women. Therefore, in the design of solutions to this problem, maybe those that give differential treatments to different women in light of their free choices are more beneficial to women than those give a uniform treatment to all women. Thirdly, the design of the mechanism for the protection of women’s rights and interests can perhaps better keep pace with the times and more effectively protect women’s rights and interests if the ideas behind such design can be changed from treating all women as a group to further dividing women into different categories and from making a uniform planning of social policy to embodying women’s voluntary choices. Since I have never carried out any in-depth research on the protection of women’s rights, the above understandings are probably shallow and superficial. They nevertheless show my concern for and support to the cause of protection of women’s rights and interests and to the related academic researches.

I am confident that, with the progress of the construction of a harmonious socialist society and the rule of law, China will certainly make continuous progress in the protection of women’s rights and interesting and in the related academic researches. A piece of evidence in support of this optimistic judgment can be found right here in this book: nearly half of the authors of the book are men, which breaks many people’s impression that most of the researchers of women’s issues and practitioners in the field of protection of women’s rights and interests are women. The participation by more and more male researchers and practitioners shows that the strengthening of the protection of women rights is a sign not of the struggle between men and women for competitive advantages on the basis of “gender self-interest”, but of the continuous pursuit by human beings of a better understanding of themselves and of the human society. The future human history should be a living drama performed by men and women who live together in harmony, rather than in uniformity, and contribute to each other’s betterment.