The hosting of yesterday's United Nations (UN) meeting on women's empowerment and gender equality by Chinese leader President Xi Jinping and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been called a major hypocrisy by some western diplomats and human rights defenders. One of the strongest critics is former U.S. Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who broadcast her feelings on twitter saying “Xi hosting a meeting on women’s rights at the UN while persecuting feminists? Shameless.”
The heads of 80 countries were at the meeting marking the 20th anniversary of the UN women’s conference in Beijing. The main thrust of the meeting was to push for the implementation of a 150-page action plan for gender equality – one of 17 goals adopted on Friday by the U.N's annual gathering of world leaders.
Clinton as the U.S. first lady had attended the 1995 Beijing conference where her speech was one of the highlights. It included a line that has become a mantra for the women’s movement globally - “human rights are women’s rights – and women’s rights are human rights.”
Although Xi yesterday partly echoed Clinton's 1995 words saying “women’s rights and interests are basic human rights. They must be protected by laws and regulations”, they were not met with the rousing response he may have hoped for.
Xi also said all Chinese women have the opportunity to excel, claiming his government had a stellar record on gender equality and women's rights.
“As the Chinese people pursue a happy life, all Chinese women have the opportunity to excel in life and make their dreams come true,”
Samantha Power, the US Ambassador to the United Nations and a member of U.S. President Obama's cabinet, said in a statement “If you want to empower women, don’t imprison them on the basis of their views or beliefs,”
Power over recent weeks has been pushing for the release of 20 women who she says have been unjustly detained around the world for their defense and beliefs of human rights. One of these is 71-year-old Chinese reporter Gao Yu, who in April received a seven year jail sentence for allegedly "providing state secrets to foreign contacts".
China came under global condemnation in March for arresting five women who had planned to used International Women's Day to demonstrate against sexual harassment on public transport. Although they were released from prison after serving a one month sentence, they say because they now have criminal records, they cannot take part in any activism without being jailed.
Human rights activists say Xi’s administration has jailed "hundreds" of human rights activists over recent years with some claiming this is "the worst clampdown on dissidents in China" for 20 years.
In a statement President Obama said “In too many places – from China to Egypt, from Russia to Venezuela – women have been swept up in repressive crackdowns on civil society, and deprived of their universal rights and fundamental freedoms."
Xi hit back at critics, saying under its "basic state policy", China would do even more to enhance gender equality, throwing out a challenge to "developed countries" to “scale up financial and technical assistance to developing countries”. To demonstrate, he and his government are prepared to put their money where their mouths are. Xi said China would make a $10 million donation to the UN’s gender equality organization UN Women, to “support women’s development worldwide”.
Li Junhua, the director general of China's foreign ministry's department of international organisations and conferences called the criticism groundless and based on misinformation.
“I believe the people in the best position to judge the state of women’s issues in China are Chinese people, particularly Chinese women,”
The five female activists jailed for their proposed International Women's Day protest, released a statement saying “We sincerely hope ... President Xi can lead by example.”