The Good News About Traveling to China as a Woman
I moved to Shanghai when I was 20 years old. I had just started university and had never lived on my own before. All of a sudden, I was alone in the most populated country in the world, in a city that 25 million people call home, far away from family, friends and everything I knew. Being a young woman and moving to any big city in this world can often be risky business, unfortunately. Whether you are in London or New York, you simply need to watch your back when you are walking alone at night (if walking alone at night is even an option).
Copenhagen, the city in which I grew up, is considered to be one of the safest cities in Europe, but if I know that I have to walk home alone after dark, I will consider twice what I wear. In Copenhagen I have been teased or bullied by men, but in Shanghai, this never happened to me. In China, women have the luxury of feeling safe. Chinese women have come a long way. In the past they were among the most oppressed in the world, and had to fight against practices as foot-binding, forced marriage and lack of education. From the 1950s to the 1970s, slogans such as “Women hold up half of the sky” and “Women can do everything men can” were part of Mao Zedong’s campaign for gender equality, and that changed a lot. Such slogans were meant to show the importance of women and men having equal rights, both in the labour force and in all other aspects of life. Mao believed that women’s employment rights and the economic independence that would follow would enhance their social status in society.
China, like every other country in the world, still has its battles to fight. But as a young women walking alone at night, I have never felt so safe as in China.
Today, Chinese women benefit from equal rights in the society. However, this does not mean that gender inequality has disappeared completely. China, like every other country in the world, still has its battles to fight. But as a young women walking alone at night, I have never felt so safe as in China. In China, if you are “eve-teased”, groped or harassed, you can call a police hotline. In big cities like Shanghai or Beijing, the police tend to react immediately.
Rape is considered to be a serious crime and is rarely trivialised. Committing rape can lead to a jail sentence of up to 10 years, and in many cases, if the crime falls under serious circumstances, it can even lead to a death sentence. The state media tends to give a lot of coverage to such cases, to act as a deterrent. Everyone is supposed to know what the consequences are.
This feeling of safety, was a frequent topic of conversation between me and my girlfriends in Shanghai. Many of us came from big cities all over the world (but mainly Western countries) and we all agreed on one thing. That we had never felt as safe as we had in China. This feeling of security and the freedoms that come with it is one of my favourite things about living in China.