Feminism’s Support of China’s Forced Sterilizations

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On April 26 2010 teams of population control officers and security personnel scoured the city of Puning City in China’s Guangdong Province, searching for women who had been designated by the state for forced sterilization. Officials were extremely anxious to meet the deadline, imposed by the communist authorities, to ensure that nearly ten thousand women be sterilized. Like all mass-sterilization programs, this event had been months in the planning, indeed as China was assuring delegates at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (during March) that it was committed to women’s rights, officials within its National Population and Family Planning Commission and the All China Women’s Federation were targeting women for forced-sterilization. The official requirements are always chillingly clear, as demonstrated by the following order issued for a similar campaign of forced sterilizations:

“From the beginning to the end, each village and town must give the highest priority to the tubal-ligation of women who have given birth to two girls, especially within those villages where these women have not yet had their tubes tied. We must demonstrate dogged determination and to the bodies of every cadre. Set the time and set the assignment. On multiple levels and using different channels, we should obtain information on spouses who are attempting to flee the county. By hook or crook, we must carry out contraceptive measures and every village must meet at least one of its target assignments.” (Speech made by Tian Xiangrong 31 July 2006 Tongwei County Government (Online—As Documented in the US Congressional Executive Commission on China-Annual Report 2008.)

There is of course no freedom of choice, no individual rights which may protect any woman who decides not be to sterilized, the options are to comply or suffer the grim consequences. These include financial penalties, withdrawal of certain housing or employment privileges, confiscation of property and goods, arbitrary detention, emotional and psychological abuse. Should that catalog of oppression fail to produce compliance, women are physically coerced and then forcibly sterilized. Anyone seeking to flee from such persecution may find her family members are arrested and held hostage by the state, as reportedly occurred within Puning City.

The harrowing events in Guangdong Province received wide media exposure and was publicly challenged and condemned by Amnesty International Archived Source It is unlikely that Women’s Non-Governmental Organizations, or activists within the global feminist community would have been unaware that some ten thousand women in Puning City were being forcibly sterilized. Yet across the internet there was a deafening silence, no outraged response or condemnation, it was as if feminism had ruled that this atrocity had never happened. Sadly those who champion women’s rights have a long history of denial and silence when it comes to the dark and violent nature of China’s population program. Stretching back beyond the UN Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, despite being made aware of such medical atrocities, the overwhelming response has been to maintain a collective omertá.

Central to feminist ideology is that a woman has the right of freedom-of- choice, yet it would appear that there are other values enshrined within feminism that eclipse that principal right, and may serve to explain why women, who so passionately espouse women’s human rights , seem unable to utter a word of criticism against China’s forced sterilizations. There is an active and occasionally interesting debate on feminist issues happening across Twitter and one recent post was fairly illuminating, in that it set in motion a train-of-thought about possible reasons for feminism’s troubling silence on China’s population atrocities. The person asserted that: “Any woman having a large family is a traitor to feminism”. is this the fundamentalist aspect of feminist thinking which ‘dare not speak its name’?

It’s difficult to see how such aggressive and intolerant bigotry could evolve from feminism’s laudable objectives; promoting women’s human rights, attaining gender, economic, social and educational equality. Unless of course those comments reflect an existing , yet under exposed, fundamentalist mindset within feminism. A fossilized dogma, callously intolerant of anything regarded as preventing the progress and realization of feminism’s prized goals. It has been asked elsewhere if feminism considers having children to be a barrier to a woman achieving her full economic, social or educational potential, if such thinking exists does that have a relationship with feminist indifference to the suffering of women in China who are being forcibly sterilized? It may well be that feminism values the sterilization of women as affording an opportunity to be free from the constraints (as they may argue) of family and children, an advancement of the cause through population control measures, that seemingly empower women as individuals. Enabling the pursuit of education and employment and supporting the female potential, minus, what the prevailing feminist orthodoxy may suggest, are the disabling limitations imposed by child and family.

While no one would oppose progression for women in such areas, it is distasteful to observe a relative handful of prominent , mostly western female activists, silently championing the sterilization of women in China on the troubling reasoning that it will permit economic, educational and social progress for women. Apart from the somewhat colonialist and patronizing tone of such thinking, it clearly relegates human rights below considerations of economic, educational and gender equality. The message is clear, any measures, including forced sterilizations which grossly violate a woman’s right to freedom-of-choice (a central tenet of feminism), that serve the objective of extreme feminist thinking is acceptable. The ideology of securing equality for women has clearly blinded feminist thinking to the harrowing realities of China’s population program, and in so doing exposed feminism as being in shameful denial and ethically bankrupt. As demonstrated by the complete silence on the issue from over seven thousand women’s rights advocates attending the 58th United Nation’s Commission On The Status Of Women, not one of whom has expressed on social media a word against China’s forced sterilizations, feminist thinking cares more for its dogma than women in China, Tibet or East Turkestan. Remaining entirely unmoved by the reality of women being tied onto medical slabs and forcibly sterilized, and in denial on the troubling contradiction of advocating a woman’s right to freedom-of-choice, while refusing to campaign for  the right not to be sterilized!

5 thoughts on “Feminism’s Support of China’s Forced Sterilizations

  1. Molly Flanders says:

    Yes. Any who support forced abortions and sterilizations by their silence and inaction on this issue are clearly putting dogma above the human rights of women they claim to be supporting. Could it be that because it’s happening far away instead of close to home it’s convenient to overlook it? It would be a very different story if it happened to them or a firend or relative.
    IWhatever the reason, such a silence is a moral bankruptcy as you say, shows a glaring contradiction and leaves those holding this view without any credibility at all.

  2. Hezaa says:

    Actually, I did a quick search on Ixquick.com and came up with these posts:


    In which Western feminist bloggers argue that China’s forced sterilizations are contrary to being pro-choice and should end.

    And also, more recently:


    Posted more than a week before your post here, a Western feminist blogger from Texas writes about the event you write about here.

    Western feminists have not been silent about the situation in China, and they have long been concerned about forced sterilizations in general, prompted by their being inflicted on poor nonwhite women in the U.S. It has been shown that the claim that Western feminists are totally ignoring China’s atrocities against women’s autonomy is false.

    • Thank you for your comments. Tibettruth was already aware that a handful of individual people had written about this issue, that however is not the point of concern, as articulated in the post itself. That relates to the silence of feminist organizations and women’s NGOs, which (unlike other issues impacting upon women, such as FGM) have been silent and inactive on the subject of China’s program of forced sterilizations. Major conferences such as the UNSCW and CSW NGO Forum have consistently ignored and marginalized this appalling violation of women’s human rights (despite being aware). While it is always welcome to note individuals who are correctly concerned by these atrocities, the fact remaims that the feminist ‘movement’, as represented most publicly, politically and influentially by organizations actively campaigning on women’s issues have been shamefully silent. Of course we look forward to noting such important bodies being actively opposed to these harrowing violations, mobilizing campaigns, raising the issue at the CSW and other various fora, perhaps demonsrating, lobbying and raising the subject at other fora. Until that time, and while evasion and silence greets the suffering of their sisters in occupied Tibet, East Turkestan and China itself, then the charge that feminism is ignoring China’s forced sterilizations remains as valid and justified.

  3. Cora says:

    How is feminism responsible for something the corrupt Chinese government is doing? Feminists are pro-choice. Therefore, we certainly do not condone forced sterilizations. Feminist organizations financially struggle. As Hezaa pointed out, there ARE feminist organizations that are working on this issue. However, due to funding, not every single feminist organization can take on every single cause, especially one as massive as fighting the government of one of the most powerful nations on the planet. If you, in writing this article, are trying to solicit feminists to pay more attention to this issue, you do a very poor job of it. Attacking and unduly insulting an ideology that promotes peace and equality is NOT the way to end forced sterilizations at the hands of the Chinese government.

    • Your comment has been included, even though it is built upon a distortion of our article, in short we are not stating that feminism is responsible for China’s program of forced sterilizations, but that as a movement, and many leading women’s organizations and activists have been briefed on this issue for a number of years, going back to before the 1995 UN Women’s Conference and beyond feminism has not invited respect by ignoring this major human rights issue. Yet in all that time, a subject which lies at the very heart of feminist thinking, that a woman has the right to freedom of choice; which is grossly and viciously violated en masse via China’s coercive birth control program, has, apart from isolated interest, been callously ignored by the concerned ranks of sisterhood. Take for example the gatherings of the UNCSW in New York and associated NGO Forum,at which a wide range of issues are examined and championed, apart that is from China’s forced steriliizations. it is such censorship and marginalization that concerns anyone posessed of integrity or compassion, How can a movement dedicated to women’s human and reproductive rights, aware of such appaling violations, consitently maintain such a deafening silence? Excuses on funding, resources do not provide a convincing answer and it is reasonable to assume that the forcible sterilization of countless numbers of women by China’s regime would have attracted the concern of those advocating rights for women, and given exposure. Sadly that has not happened!

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