Case Study: Zero tolerance: ending violence against marginalized women in China


Training for women impacted by HIV/AIDS in Kunming, Yunnan Province, October 2016. The participants pictured here are discussing the factors that lead so many women with HIV/AIDS to encounter domestic violence. Photo: Yuan Wenli/Equality China
HIV/AIDS and violence against women training held in Yunnan Province. Photo: Yuan Wenli/Equality China

“Zero tolerance is the goal, public participation is the method”, said Zhao Li, a grassroots activist in China.

China’s first law on domestic violence was passed in December 2015, but implementation is yet to include all those at risk. Organizations like Equality, a small feminist NGO, are working to ensure that the law is applied consistently in all cases of violence, while providing support to survivors, especially to women and girls from underserved communities.

Equality, supported by a small grant from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, works with partners to empower lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LBT) women, women with disabilities and women living with HIV/AIDS so they can claim their rights and gain access to legal assistance and social services.

The project trained 232 grassroots activists and service providers and 82 government officials to improve their understanding and response to domestic violence through the provision of appropriate legal and law enforcement services. It also worked with social workers to improve their skills when working with LBT survivors of violence. A final external evaluation showed that the service providers increased their knowledge and capacity to provide improved support to women survivors of violence.

A lawyer who took part in the training said, “I did not really understand domestic violence victims and their situation before when I dealt with domestic violence cases. After participating in the project training, especially with detailed skills to address domestic violence at the community level with a gender lens, I am able to have much more effective communication with domestic violence victims now.”

The project also worked to make sure more women can seek protection under China’s new domestic violence law. For instance, according to Equality the law focuses on intimate partner violence against married women, even though survivors can be from any background as well as LBT women and women living with HIV/AIDS. “Implementing the anti-domestic violence law is still quite difficult”, said Zhao Li, an activist who participated in Equality’s training.

Qiuyun Wang, a grassroots activist, said “[The project’s] training allowed me to fully understand the anti-domestic violence law. I better understood how I should act as a service provider within my community, and how to help women and girls living with HIV/AIDS when they encounter domestic violence.” 

In addition, Equality provided hotline services for 160 women survivors of violence, and increased the knowledge and capacity of 115 LBT women and 36 women living with HIV/AIDS to know their rights.

Yuan Feng, Executive Director and co-founder of Equality, said the NGO is working to ensure that all crimes linked to violence against women are included in the law, and for practical changes to ensure the law is implemented properly and with greater police involvement.

She believes that such work has enormous potential benefits as well as certain limits: “The root cause of domestic violence is gender inequality. If we don’t tackle this issue, we can only solve the symptoms, we cannot treat it.”