Pioneering women’s legal aid group receives cash birthday gift
Civil Society | Gender | Law and Rights
The Centre for Women’s Law and Legal Services at Beijing University, which this week marked ten years of pioneering work to protect and strengthen women’s rights, received a CNY 130,000 birthday gift from the China Legal Aid Foundation established by the Ministry of Justice in 1997.
The cash comes from a Special Fund for Women and Family Rights Protection that the Foundation created in March with a CNY 2 million donation from an ethnic Korean woman entrepreneur. The Foundation’s grant to the Centre at Beijing University represents something of a funding breakthrough for this non-governmental initiative which previously depended overwhelmingly on international support, notably from the Ford Foundation.
According to full-time staff member, Lin Lixia(林丽霞), the Centre will use the new funds to pilot work in Hebei Province to create a legal mechanism for judges to issue protection orders requiring violent husbands to keep away from wives they have abused.
The tenth anniversary event was addressed by high-ranking government officials including Honorary Chair of the All China Women’s Federation, Peng Peiyun (彭佩云), former Minister of Justice, Zou Yu (邹瑜), and former Vice President of the Supreme People’s Court, Ma Yuan (马原), as well as donor representatives, Beijing University leaders, and women who have benefited from the Centre’s aid. Ms. Han Chun (韩春), a migrant from rural Anhui, briefed the audience on how the Centre helped her and four other women to gain compensation for farm land which had been absorbed into a city. The village was unwilling to pass on the women’s share of the compensation package because they had married men from cities.
Over the last decade, the Centre has given free legal advice in response to 50,000 enquires and has provided legal representation in more than 600 cases. Successful cases include a CNY 300,000 compensation claim on behalf of the family of a woman who died after contracting (and passing on to her baby daughter) the AIDS virus through unsafe transfusion in a Hebei hospital, and an action against an employer who withheld payment from 23 migrant women workers.
With only six lawyers and four support staff, the Centre has confined itself to representing cases that are able to gain high public profile, primarily through mass media reports, and thus may have policy impact. The Centre has now decided to concentrate on public interest litigation as its core work, especially in four key areas, namely, rural women’s land rights, protection of women domestic workers’ rights, workplace gender discrimination and sexual harassment.
The Centre also aims to push forward the reform of relevant laws and policies, both through court action and through appeal to policymakers and legislators. The latest such endeavor concerns differential retirement ages for men and women. The Centre has appealed to the People’s Congress that the differential is against the Chinese Constitution, and is asking for an amendment.
Another strategy has been to mobilise various social resources, such as academis, lawyers as well as media to join the Centre’s efforts. It set up a Civil Legal Aid Coordination Group in 2000 and a Women’s Legal Aid Collaboration Network in 2002. The latter links more than 100 law firms across the country. In September 2002 it launched a women’s legal aid website, and in April 2004 it created a Women Watch-China website.
The Centre also undertakes research, organises seminars, and has published a series of books to publicise legal knowledge.
Founding Director, Guo Jianmei (郭建梅), was born in rural Henan and studied law and Beijing University, graduating in 1983. She previously worked at China Lawyer magazine, the Ministry of Justice and the All China Women’s Federation. During her address to the anniversary event, she spoke of three breakthroughs that provided the context for the Centre’s birth and growth: the 1992 Law on Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests, the establishment of a legal aid system in 1994 and the Fourth World Women’s Conference held in Beijing in 1995.
Report by Tina Qian, May 17, 2006