(NEW YORK)— Ahead of a review Friday by a United Nations human rights committee, PEN America has submitted evidence that the Chinese government has failed to protect women’s rights across multiple critical areas including on education, the treatment of imprisoned women writers and scholars, and on free expression. 

PEN America today called on the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to hold Beijing to account for violating the provisions of the treaty and infringing on women’s rights. CEDAW assesses the Chinese government’s implementation of an international treaty on women’s rights that China ratified in 1980.

PEN America, PEN International, and the Independent Chinese PEN Center (ICPC) jointly submitted evidence to the Committee on three issues: women’s right to free expression in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic; ethnic minority women and girls’ right to education and to use and learn their mother tongue; and the treatment of women writers and scholars in detention.

“The May 12 review between the Chinese delegation and the UN Committee provides an opportunity for international scrutiny and accountability for the Chinese government’s violation of women’s rights,” said Angeli Datt, PEN America’s China research and advocacy lead.  “The Committee should strongly raise the issues from our submission calling for the end of restrictions on free expression, the release of all detained women writers, and the end to discriminatory education policies towards ethnic minority women and girls. It is time to end the impunity that Chinese officials enjoy for their violations of women’s rights and international human rights law.”

The submission found that the Chinese government failed to implement CEDAW treaty provisions by suppressing women’s right to seek and receive information about the COVID-19 pandemic, denying their right to free expression about the pandemic and recovery efforts. In addition, women journalists, commentators and protesters have been detained for expressing themselves, reporting on, or sharing information about the pandemic. 

The Chinese government’s “bilingual education” policies privilege education in Mandarin Chinese, resulting in a systematic failure to provide equal access to ethnic minorities’ education through their mother tongue. Ethnic Uyghur, Tibetan, and Mongolian children face widespread discrimination under assimilatory education policies that marginalize the use of minority languages. These policies have been imposed without public consultation and are often strongly opposed by local minority communities, who face arrest and harassment for opposing such policies through peaceful demonstrations or online writing.

Women writers, publishers, and scholars in China have been subjected to various forms of harassment and imprisonment in violation of their right to freedom of expression. The ICPC is tracking 14 cases of women who are currently detained in China at least in part for their writing. Uyghur women have faced arbitrary detention and denial of due process and procedural rights due to their cultural, religious, and linguistic identity. The 2022 edition of PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index, released last month, documented 90 writers detained in China with an overall 137 writers at risk in the country

Read the PEN organizations submission on the United Nations’ website here.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org 

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057