Top counsellor tells of reform 'victims'

A LEADING guru on love, sex and marriage, Chen Yiyun, believes women and society are suffering because of inequalities surfacing during the reform process.

'In the cities, violence is up, society has become unequal as a result of reform and people are nervous,' said Ms Chen, who established the Jinglun Family Centre in 1993 with a mere 5,000 yuan (HK$4,585).

Running a non-governmental organisation is no simple task.

Finding funding is a big problem and Ms Chen relies on a network of volunteers.

The centre provides counselling for abused women and troubled families and sex education for children.

Ms Chen conducts sex-education classes at high schools in Beijing's eastern district and hosts classes for parents.

'Students and parents alike want to learn more. Discussing such topics used to be taboo but children need to know how their bodies work,' she said.

The sociologist, who believes it is important to educate people at an early age, would like her sex-education programme to go city-wide and wants to publish a guide for her classes, but funding is a constraint.

In the past, Ms Chen had easy access to mass media but, these days, radio and television stations want money, even for public education programmes.

She also used to host a radio talk show, Half an Hour During Lunchtime, but now has no funding.

Ms Chen has devoted time to re-educating prostitutes, but says experience has taught her it is a futile task.

She estimates more than 80 per cent of prostitutes working China's streets and bars have sexually transmitted diseases.

Although she has tried reforming several women, most have got used to earning a lot of money and will not give up the work.

Her office is a bustling place and her small staff of four and 30 volunteers are obviously stretched to the limit.

The phone does not stop ringing and most callers are women seeking family counselling or help after abuse from their partners.

More than 80 per cent of the people who seek guidance are women.

Gruesome pictures of some of the victims reflect the seriousness of spousal abuse in China.

According to Ms Chen, close to 60 per cent of the abuse cases are alcohol related.

Her staff try to save marriages, but often find themselves explaining the divorce process.

The Jinglun Centre has received calls from abused children, but this is rare.

'Marriage problems occur for all kinds of reasons. in many cases, men cannot handle strong women,' the counsellor said.

Even share-trading can create problems. The centre recently received a call from a woman whose husband beat her because she told him not to gamble on the securities market.

He did it anyway, lost money and could not handle the fact his wife was right.

Ms Chen, also a standing committee member of the women's commission of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, said women employed by state enterprises faced many difficulties.

After they turned 40, they lost hope of being promoted and many retired early.