Advocating for better legal protection against domestic violence in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), 1995–2012 : a case study of the Center for Women’s Law Studies and Legal Services at Peking University

This dissertation takes the Center for Women’s Law Studies and Legal Services at Peking University as a case study and assesses explorative how a bottom-up social organization advocates for a better legal protection against DV, as example for advocacy to enhance gender equality. The analysis pays special attention to the contextual institutional arrangements which are fraught with difficulties as a result of ambiguous political and gender institutions as well as inner organizational developments, as crucial factors shaping the organization, its development and advocacy. To examine this, a twofold analytical approach was necessary. I suggest a gender-sensitive theoretical frame, combining the opportunity structure framework and substantiated with an organization perspective. To access the necessary data I applied methodological triangulation consisting of document analysis, semi-structured expert interviews, and participant observation. The analysis led to interesting findings with long term implications for future research on bottom-up social organizing, rights advocacy and gender activism but also unveiled limitations of the opportunity structure framework. Only a selection of the achieved findings can be included in this summary.
Previous studies argued that the perception of an opportunity structure as supportive, even if the descriptions of the institutional arrangements appear quite restrictive, can open up space for actors (Shriver and Adams 2013; Kurzman 1996; Eitan Y. Alimi et al. 2006; Meyer 2004). However, this study has shown that this argument is not necessarily valid. Despite the Center’s member’s evaluation of the opportunity structure as moderately positive, or at least supportive enough for it to remain operational, it still lost its affiliation in 2010. This limitation of the opportunity structure framework relates to the insecurities arising out of an established authoritarian rule and an insufficient rule of law. To conclusively answer under which conditions a positive perception of an opportunity structure can open up additional opportunities it is suggested in the dissertation’s conclusion to compare cases study organizations working on the same issue area, however in different authoritarian regimes.
The assumption of a multidimensional opportunity structure and a disaggregated analysis of the different dimensions revealed that institutional gender arrangements take a back seat to arrangements regulating bottom-up legal rights advocacy, at least during the period of analysis (1995–2012). The analysis suggested that any issue coupled with legal rights advocacy become a sensitive political topic. Moreover, the analysis unveiled that gender issues, formerly labeled as none-sensitive, have obviously became a sensitive topic in themselves. The organizational analysis revealed that formally, the Center appeared to be a progressive actor pushing for legal enhancements of gender equality; but its informal institutions, manifesting in staff members’ interactions and behavior toward third parties, showed that the legal staff in particular often followed normative guidelines associated with traditional perceptions of gender relations – perceptions in which male superiority partially remained and according institutions were even perpetuated. This finding mirrors current revelation in course of the “#MiTu” movement in the Chinese Charity sector initiated by the current sexual assault allegations against Lei Chuang, founder of a famous Chinese Charity organization. Basing on this finding I suggest in the conclusions practical training courses financed by supporters and conducted by independent experts in order to tackle widespread unequal practices and gender discrimination even in Chinese Charity organizations in general and gender rights advocacy organizations in particular.
The disaggregated analysis of the opportunity structure revealed that the observed tightening of control of bottom-up social organizing, gender activism and rights advocacy under Xi Jinping, did not suddenly appear with his coming into power. Rather, the opportunity structure for bottom-up social organizing and legal rights activism actually started closing far earlier (the 1990s and the mid-2000s, respectively). Moreover, the current crackdown on gender and feminist activism, which is characterized by a closing of the opportunity structure for both gender and feminist activism started as early as the beginning of the new millennium. Through this finding the dissertation provides an important contribution to evaluate current Chinese state-society relations.


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