Gender based violence in Asia: Chinese diner who resists sexual harassment is brutally beaten

The shocking scenes from a restaurant in China last Friday have left women’s equality rights shattered in Asia with serious questions being asked about gender-based violence.

The Chinese and international media have been quick to condemn the vicious attack on a group of women by nine men and social media has reached millions in widespread condemnation. But how can this kind of attack happen in today’s society and how do we stop it from happening again?

What happened at the restaurant?

A woman stood up to sexual harassment and was attacked. CCTV footage of the assault shows a man placing his hand on a woman’s back as she shares a meal with two companions at a barbecue restaurant in the city of Tangshan in Hebei province in the early hours. After the woman pushes him away, the man strikes her before others drag her outside and continue to strike her as she lies on the ground. Another woman is also knocked to the floor. Nine men have been arrested and responding to the national outrage, the Communist party chief in the city, Wu Weidong, was quoted by local media as saying the men would be punished according to the law and that the authorities should launch a campaign to eradicate “gangsters and evil forces”.

What did fellow diners do?

Very little. Shockingly fellow diners did not come to the women’s aid as the brutal violence against the female diners ensued. I am saddened that bystanders demonstrated a real disconnect, lack of empathy and courage in the face of a heinous attack. This raises serious questions regarding predatory sexual behaviour, violence against women and gender stereotypes. I imagine that fellow dinners may have been scared and did not want to get hurt. However, to witness women being dragged, kicked and beaten by a group of men and choosing not to act, shows serious lack of care and compassion. 

What has been the reaction in China?

The attack quickly went viral on Chinese social media, shining a spotlight on violence against women in China. On Weibo (one of the largest social media platforms in China), the discussion of the video took up the six top trending topic slots. In addition, a widely shared WeChat post (an instant messaging social media platform) spoke out about the initial official framing of the assault as a simple act of violence. 

The anonymous post said: ‘This happened in a society where violence against women is rampant …To ignore and suppress the perspective of gender is to deny the violence that people – as women – suffer.’

The attack has caused shock waves across China and prompted many to ask why this has happened. As Yaqiu Wang, a senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch commented: “The reason that these men felt they could freely assault the woman for rejecting their harassment is because so many men in the past have gone unpunished by the authorities for doing the same.” 

Why is such predatory sexual behaviour and violence against women so prevalent?

The shocking scenes has renewed a debate about sexual harassment and gender-based violence.  A report by The Asian Foundation entitled The State of Conflict and Violence in Asia examines the reasons as to why such violence is prevalent across the continent and the causes of the inherent patterns of behaviour. Of the five emerging patterns highlighted in the report gender-based violence is one.

The report goes on to highlight that:

  • In Afghanistan Over 90% of women believe husbands are justified in using violence against their wives
  • In Bangladesh three quarters of married women are abused by their spouse
  • In India almost 400,000 women and girls have been abducted in the past decade

How do we stop this cycle of violence?

This attack highlights the serious issue of gender-based violence and attitudes towards women and civilised society. Any violence should be stopped regardless of whether it is towards humans or animals. According to the research, violent behaviours often start with the abuse of animals and extend to humans as a gradual progression. We need to address the root cause of systematic violence towards women, gender-based issues and animal cruelty through means of education.

By teaching respect, empathy, compassion and gender equality we can educate a new generation about attitudes towards women and put an end to this cycle of abuse. ACTAsia’s Caring for Life education programmes all address gender equality and the importance of teaching soft skills such as empathy and compassion which students will use in their daily lives inside – and outside – of the classroom.

How can education make a difference and put an end to violence?

ACTAsia’s CFL education for children has reached more than 100,000 students in China and the programme is being rolled out in Pakistan too. On Children’s Day this year ACTAsia recommended 100 children’s book for children aged 6-12 which convey positive gender messages and highlight positive role models. By recognising that change needs to start through education we can make a dramatic difference to the future lives of women across Asia – putting an end to systematic violence against women in the country and putting an end to such horrific scenes witnessed at the restaurant that night. 

Please join us in being change makers and help ACTAsia reach more children in Asia.

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