When half a dozen topless women took to the roadside in
In the past couple of years, performance-art style actions - often cheeky or humorous, always eye-catching - have raised awareness of the challenges facing women in
The truth about the
"It shows our activities have had an impact," said
While there are not many feminists in
Women played an important part in the Communist rise to power, and in the early years of the People's Republic, women's rights saw huge advances.
In the past "there were many feminists like Deng Yingchao [who led the party's women's programme] who said women held up half the sky," said activist
But while they draw inspiration from older feminists, "gender discrimination is getting worse," said
Women's wages have fallen as a proportion of men's since economic reforms began and their rights to marital property were reduced by legal changes in 2011.
The percentage of women in the labour force is high - just below the US rate at 73.6%, according to the 2010 census - but the proportion of urban women who work has declined from more than 77% two decades ago to barely 61%. Assets are overwhelmingly in male hands. In the countryside, less than a fifth of land-use contracts include wives' names.
There are only two women on the politburo (admittedly, double the previous number) and no woman has ever reached its standing committee, the most senior political body. The proportion of women on the party's 200-strong central committee has slipped to less than 5%, lower than in Mao's day.
Discrimination starts before the cradle. While the gender gap at birth has fallen very slightly in the past two years, modern technology combined with the preference for boys means that there are almost 118 male births for every 100 female.
"In the past, women had a strong and independent image. Now on TV it's just big-breasted women cleaning the house . . . There are insults about gold-diggers. Across the media, they just have a really bad image of women and never show their achievements," said
Feminists are dismissed as "man-haters . . . people who want to step on men's heads, aggressive. I feel very disappointed."
Companies are highly unlikely to face punishment for sex discrimination, although it is illegal. Adverts routinely specify that only men need apply, or only attractive women. "Women care about their careers but they don't get any support. Their families just want them to get married as early as they can. Then, when they do, the marriage laws won't protect their property rights," said
"When women face discrimination they don't fight against it because they weren't raised this way, and even if they try to, they don't know how to do it. I think all women know something's wrong, but they don't know what it is or why."
Even so, they are optimistic that change will come.
"She did it step by step; she went to villages and talked to people about women's rights," she said.
Other women have sung on the
"This is still the beginning; you don't have to fix your identity to a certain circle," said Li. "As a feminist you should rethink things for yourself."
An Occupy the Men's Toilets protest in
Students with banners reading 'If you love her, do not let her wait in line' at a
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