Understated and outnumbered, China’s feminists move and evolve in hostile environment. They discuss gender equality at universities, at women's NGOs in the big cities, in artistic circles and online, where they spread the word and mobilise other women for the cause. These grassroots NGOs are the most active with campaigners often stepping out into public spaces to raise awareness and fight against discrimination and abuse. In the past couple of years, activists have rallied to "occupy male toilets", have protested against sexual harassment in the subway and against violence on women outside government buildings.
There are no statistics about the number of feminists or the number of feminist activists in China, but most of them are believed to be working or associated to NGOs focused on women and gender issues. China Development Brief, an NGO that runs an online and print publication reporting on China's growing nonprofit and philanthropic sectors, estimates there are roughly between 70 and 100 such NGOs in Mainland China.
But the odds are stacked against these few brave women contributing to the civil rights movement. On one hand, China is brewing its rapid development under a triumvirate of entrenched ideals – power, patriarchy and control – that push women (or any dissident voice) away from the game of public influence and political decision-making. On the other hand, feminists lack public support. They are often greeted with smear campaigns and repression in a country ruled by men, and where it can be shameful and even risky to raise a voice against the system. Experts note that systemic discrimination is extremely wide ranging, from the sex ratio to being excluded from China’s power and wealth machine.
Younger activists believe some small progress is taking place as more people are joining their ranks. Feminists will not stop their fight, which they predict will be long and arduous. They have warned the future for women in the People’s Republic of China doesn’t look bright.