With complaints of sexual harassment of women on public transportation on the rise in Beijing, the Chinese police have warned women against wearing “minimal clothing” such as mini-skirts or hot pants to avoid being subjected to unwanted groping or covert filming on cellphones. The police have also suggested that women not sit on higher levels of the bus, and instead stand on the lower levels while using bags, magazines, and newspapers to shelter their bodies to avoid sexual harassment.
Aside from the many glaringly obvious problems with the Chinese authorities' supposed solution to the very real and growing issue of sexual harassment in Beijing, this type of solution, which completely absolves men from taking any responsibility for their own actions, does not solve the problem at its root but instead highlights China’s long-standing issue of gender discrimination.
According to Xing Wei, a Beijing police officer, the guidelines for women had been published on the police bureau’s microblog the day before, asking that women increase awareness for their own protection. However, confining women to certain parts of the bus, telling them what they can and cannot wear, and asking them to cover up using bags, magazines, and newspapers is taking it a few steps above just increasing awareness, I would say.
"It is hard for us to collect evidence in sexual harassment cases despite cameras on buses and subways. It is also difficult to train public transportation workers to assist women in harassment prevention and response," Wei added.
In other words, rather than establishing stricter policies that would explicitly prohibit sexual harassment or punishing the harassers, the Chinese authorities simply find it easier to tell women to cover up and protect themselves.
As of now, anyone caught harassing women faces a warning, a fine, or at most, a whopping 15 days in detention as punishment.
Jiang Yue, a professor and expert on women’s rights at Xiamen University, agreed that the advisory from the police will not help to efficiently end the rising problem of sexual harassment in Beijing, but instead will cover up the issue. According to Yue, it’s not only easy, but also necessary for transport operators to provide warnings and monitor behavior on all public transportation.
"Passengers pay to take transport, so they have the responsibly to give them a safe environment,” Jiang said.
Furthermore, this type of discriminatory behavior against women is not entirely a new phenomenon in China. While women are increasingly being held responsible for protecting themselves, men are seeing no repercussions of any sort for their actions. An example of this is a Chinese city’s plan to fine mothers who have had children out of wedlock. The goal of this legislation is to “intensify family planning management.” However, it fails to include the father in this family planning, and absolves him of all responsibility.
By enforcing gender-discriminatory laws and regulations and exempting men from taking responsibility for their actions, the Chinese authorities aren’t solving their social issues. Instead, they’re just creating new problems.