“You don’t want a relationship with me? This is what you get!” Tao Rukun screamed at hisclassmate before he set her face on fire.
The 17-year-old Hefei student Tao had been pursuing a romantic interest in Zhou Yan, hisclassmate, for two years, and was furious when she refused his advances in September 2011.
The girl’s life remained in jeopardy for seven days after the horrific attack.
The incident was cited as an example of “violence against women” by the United NationsPopulation Fund (UNFPA) in China at a recent forum organized by the Internet portal Sohu.com.
“When we talk about gender-based violence, 90 percent of the cases are violence against women,” says Feng Yuan from the Anti-domestic Violence Network in Beijing.
UNFPA in China supported the country’s first research into violence against women that takes gender into account.
“Though most of the 2,000 participants surveyed agree on gender equality, data shows unequal power relations between men and women are deep set in gender norms and common in society,” says UNFPA in China consultant Wen Hua.
Among 1,017 male respondents, 73 percent believe that men should be tough, and 52 percent say they would use violence to defend their honor. Also, 72 percent of male respondents believe that men have the power of decision on major issues within a relationship.
“Men are expected to be strong, capable of controlling everything. That’s what we know as masculinity,” says Fang Gang, head of the Institute of Sexuality and Gender Studies at Beijing Forestry University. “But this is the characteristic that mostly causes violence in relationships.”
Fang gave the case of Dong Shanshan, a 26-year-old Beijing woman who was beaten to death by her husband in October 2009, one year after they got married.
“Before she died, Dong said in an interview that she married the man because she admired his masculinity, and he seemed to be capable of controlling everything,” Fang says. “But that was exactly what caused her domestic sufferings.”
In eliminating such violence against women and girls, UNFPA in China says action needs to be taken that involves changing men’s and women’s understanding of traditional gender roles.This includes primary and middle school education programs, community interventions and parental guidance on raising boys and girls as equals in the family.
But, there is still so much to do.
A survey by Anti-domestic Violence Network of China Law Society in 2009 found 15.9 percent of female victims kept silent about their sufferings. About 30 percent sought help through related civil organizations, and the rest turned to families and friends for help.
In the Hefei accident, meanwhile, the public started to show less sympathy for the girl, when photos of the two teenagers acting intimately were posted online.
“People think girls are no longer 100 percent innocent if they were once in a relationship,” says Feng Yuan. “This is a traditional concept but also a dangerous one. Girls could be reluctant to talk about their sufferings because they feel uncomfortable mentioning relationship issues.”
Feng adds there is no legislation specifically related to domestic violence in China, and the number of organizations helping such victims is fewer than 10.