After the cultural revolution in China, due to the introduction of major economic reforms, the growth of the private sector and the market economy, resulted in certain gains for women, such as rising incomes and greater economy. However, it also brought a host of new problems and made some of the previously existing problems more visible. The number of women holding political positions declined as a result of direct elections.
Women of All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF) realised that women’s liberation was far from achieved and that women’s interests were not always with, or, addressed by the state, as they had thought. These problems disturbed the government too. In 1978, it rehabilitated the ACWF and encouraged it to play an active role in solving China’s emerging social problems.
Along with the older concerns, the initial activities of the new women’s movement were the documentation of inequality and the protection of women’s rights and interests. A major victory was a new law on the protection of the rights and interests of women. Another achievement was progress made in women’s formal political representation. As the result of the ACWF’s efforts, a coordinating committee on women and children, and the state council, was established in 1990.
While these efforts addressed long-standing problems women had faced, efforts were also made to meet the emerging needs of women. In cities, NGOs were formed to address issues that traditional institutions did not deal with.
The expansion of the women’s press has played a vital role in documenting gender inequality and providing a forum for women to voice their concerns. The press has become more and more vocal in exposing gender discrimination and advocating women’s interests.
The initiatives and the efforts of the ACWF and the activities of women scholars have resulted in the growth of women’s studies in China, that have had an unusually important place in the development of the contemporary Chinese women’s movement, especially in the formation of independent association and thinking. Establishing women’s studies was perceived by women scholars as a women’s movement in itself.
Women’s studies’ scholars touch upon many sensitive and controversial issues. A scholar pointed out in 1986 that Chinese theoretical studies on women had to overcome three taboo areas: sex (dismissing sex in research), class (equating women’s oppression with class oppression), and feminism (excluding feminist thought in studies of women in China). These three taboos have been broken to some degree in the 1990s.
(The author has learned this through Amrita Basu’s work on ‘Challenges faced by local feminisms” ).