On International Women’s Day, Remember the Women Struggling for their Rights in East Turkestan

For immediate release

March 8, 2017 10:35 am EST

Contact: Uyghur Human Rights Project +1 (202) 478 1920

On International Women’s Day, the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) wishes to draw attention to the challenges faced by Uyghur women.  Uyghur women are prominent in the movement to end the Chinese government’s infringement on the rights of Uyghurs in East Turkestan, many bravely standing up for their rights in the face of government repression.

Women like Atikem Rozi, one of Ilham Tohti’s students, imprisoned for contributing to his Uighurbiz website encouraging dialogue between Uyghurs and Han; or Patigul Ghulam, who has been detained and threatened by authorities because she refuses to give up her search for her son after he disappeared in police custody; or Mehbube Ablesh, a reporter who was arrested for “splittism” for criticizing the government’s harsh policies. Women like Rebiya Kadeer, who advocate for Uyghur rights overseas, see their relatives remaining in East Turkestan harassed and imprisoned or like Rabihan Musa, who are themselves harassed and prevented from seeing their children and grandchildren.

Infringement of labor rights disproportionately affects Uyghur women.  Uyghur women, including those college-educated and fluent in Mandarin, face even greater discrimination than their male counterparts.  Online job advertisements for state-sector jobs reveal bias against Uyghur applicants, particularly female ones.  Positions are allotted based on quotas, with many more positions set aside for Han.  This kind of discrimination also takes place in the private sector, despite laws forbidding discrimination on the basis of gender or ethnicity, and contributes to the economic marginalization of Uyghurs, particularly women.

While Uyghur women face hurdles in getting high status jobs, government programs to transfer them to jobs in factories in eastern China are also extremely problematic.  The working conditions are difficult, featuring long hours and low pay.  When the women arrive in their assigned factories they often find that their salaries are docked for transportation costs, that they must work longer than the hours stipulated in their contracts, and are given low quality food and inadequate medical care.  Many of them had to be coerced in to going, with their families being threatened with fines and confiscation of their land if they do not join.

Uyghur women are also targeted by the government’s efforts to control religious expression, strictly enforcing rules against Islamic dress, preventing those wearing headscarves from entering hospitals and government buildings, and sometimes forcing them to remove them before they are permitted on transportation.  They have been banned in all public spaces in Urumchi as well as other locations in the region, and those violating the law face large fines and even eviction from their homes.  A recent Freedom House report noted that “police increasingly approach women to enforce the rules, search homes based on informant tips, and fine violators” despite the fact that the rules of what articles of clothing are illegal are unclear.  This close monitoring of Uyghur women’s wardrobe is likely only to create more mistrust and resentment of the Chinese authorities.

Activities of the büwi, women who recite the Koran at religious gatherings and sing at shrine festivals, are also strictly controlled, and they are forced to undergo training by the authorities.  Training involves ensuring that they understand their role in “safeguarding social stability” and “national unity,” as well their obligations to “obey state laws and regulations,” meaning enforcing the governments harsh rules on the practice of religion. Women are even barred from entering mosques, placing them in the same category as children under 18.  For more please see our report Sacred Right Defiled: China’s Iron-Fisted Repression of Uyghur Religious Freedom.

Although permitted to have more children than Han Chinese under China’s one child policy, they have been subjected to the same repressive family planning practices, including forced abortion and sterilization.   Despite the recent relaxing of rules permitting Han to only have one child, it appears that ethnic minorities will soon be subjected to stricter controls, as the government has indicated it intends to make family planning laws “equal” between all ethnicities in the country.

“As we celebrate International Women’s Day by recognizing the achievements of women around the globe, we must not forget the continuing repression of the rights of Uyghur women in East Turkestan” said UHRP Acting Director Omer Kanat.  UHRP believes that the Chinese state should respect the laws forbidding discrimination against women and minorities that exist in its own constitution, and ensure that it upholds the principles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which it signed in 1980.

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