Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Village Women Fight for Rights

Discriminated village women try to sue their village

When her village sold a piece of land for real estate development in 2004, Li Chengying was told that she would receive nothing from this sale. The land belonged to all residents in the village on the outskirt of Yanan city in Shaanxi province, and the earning, about 22 million yuan (less than $3 million) in cash, was supposed to be distributed among all villagers. But Ms. Li and more than 30 other women were excluded, simply because they married to men from out side of the village.

Normally, if married to outsiders, women in rural China would move to their husbands’ town. But for some reason, Ms. Li and those other ladies stayed in the village where they were born and raised. Yet for a long time, they felt being discriminated.

“When it comes to fulfill obligations, there is no difference [between us] with [native] male residents. But why are we treated as unqualified villagers once it comes to distribute income?” The ladies complained when being interviewed by the China Youth Daily.

They argued with the village administration in 2004, and were allowed to collect signatures from fellow villagers. If over half of the villagers signed an agreement consenting to share the land sale earning with the ladies, they would get their cut. The ladies collected 72 signatures out of 113 residents and received a copy of the agreement, with a seal of the village administration on it.

Before they ever received the payment, however, the administration changed and the new leaders denied the agreement. Many villagers also changed their mind and did not want more people to participate in the distribution.

Ms. Li and her female fellows appealed their case to upper level governments all the way up to the provincial government, only to see the case be returned to the village at the end of the day. The higher offices refused to interfere directly because there is a “Villager Autonomy Law,” according to which village affairs are supposed to be decided by villagers themselves.

“Is the villager autonomy law bigger than the constitution?” Ms. Li questioned. The lady, whose highest level of education is the first grade, said she studied China’s constitution, which claims equal rights for all citizens, and that village policies should be in accordance with the constitution.

Her argument, so far, is just an argument. When the ladies went to a local court to sue the village, the court did not even accept the case, citing “requests from leaders” that the court should not accept law suits concerning distribution of village’s collective income, like that from the land sale.

Ms. Li and the other ladies have hired a lawyer and continue their legal pursuit.

As a matter of fact, they are not alone in such village discriminations. Women married to men from other places but remain living in their home villages suffer unfair treatments in many rural areas across China. Traditionally, and still the case in China’s millions of villages, married women are no longer considered a member of the family they were born into, but a member of the family they married into. For women who are not able to move to their husbands’ origin places, they can not enjoy the men’s native rights, while their own are denied.

Some of them have started to fight back. A few women sued their villages for denying their rights, including dividend from land sales, and won. There are of course unsuccessful battles, and perhaps even more village women in such situation simply endure the unfairness silently.

----by Josie Liu

No comments: