Women's rights activists want Xi Jinping's wife removed from UNESCO

Peng Liyuan is special envoy for the promotion of girl's and women's education at the UN agency. A humanitarian group accuses her of not speaking out in connection with the case a Chinese woman found chained in a rural area. China’s gender gap is fuelling sexual trafficking of women.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – A group of activists and defenders of women's rights sent a letter to UNESCO asking that Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, be removed from her post as special envoy for the promotion of girl's and women's education.

They accuse her of not speaking out in connection with the affair of the Chinese woman found chained in a hut in central China, thought to be a victim of human trafficking.

More than 400 “people who care deeply about the rights and well-being of women and girls” signed the letter, including Jing Zhang, founder of Women's Rights in China, John Churchill of Democracy China Media and intellectuals like Chen Guangcheng, Teng Biao, Bob Fu, Ann Lau and Zhou Fengsuo.

Last month, a video surfaced showing a woman tied by her neck to a chain in Xuzhou (Jiangsu) sparking outrage. The victim is seeing wearing light clothes in the middle of winter, held in a squalid hut without a door. According to a preliminary investigation she gave birth to eight children.

China’s Communist Party has made several contradictory statements about the woman, including the claim that she suffers from mental illness, generating speculation and scepticism among ordinary Chinese.

“The plight of this forsaken woman is heart-breaking. It raises pressing questions,” said Reggie Littlejohn, founder and president of Women's Rights Without Frontiers, is co-initiator and lead signatory of a joint letter to UNESCO.

Littlejohn goes on to ask: “What is her true identity? Was she trafficked? How was she allowed to have eight children under the One Child Policy? Do the children all have the same father, or several fathers? Why didn't authorities in her village protect her? Why would it matter that she might suffer from mental illness? Would this somehow justify chaining her around the neck and leaving her in scant clothing in an unheated, open-air hut? Where is she now? Are she and her children safe?”

Similarly, she wonders “Why have we not heard from her about this chained woman, and about the egregious epidemic of sex trafficking and sexual slavery in China? Does Ms. Peng really care about women and girls? We call on her to resign. Otherwise, UNESCO should remove her.”

The one-child policy – officially adopted in 1979 and abolished in 2013, coupled with a preference for sons – has prompted thousands of Chinese families to abort their daughters or abandon them.

The gender imbalance “is driving to sexual slavery within China and from surrounding countries," Littlejohn explained; consequently, “there are an estimated 30 to 40 million more males living in China than females.”

According to a report on human trafficking by the US State Department, the Chinese government's policy "does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking" and Chinese authorities are “not making significant effort” on the issue.

Finally, Littlejohn laments that, “Despite continued reports of law enforcement officials benefiting from, permitting, or directly facilitating sex trafficking and forced labour, the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of law enforcement officials allegedly involved in the crime.”