China may outlaw the use of superstitious and “mind-control” practices on women and ban employers from asking female applicants about their marital or pregnancy status under proposed changes to its women’s rights law. A draft revision of the Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests, which has been in place for three decades, was reviewed on Monday at an ongoing meeting of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, the top legislative body. “New problems have arisen as our society and economy develop, while some of our prevalent old issues over the protection of women’s rights and interests have yet to be totally resolved,” He Yiting, an official from the NPC’s Social Development Affairs Committee, was quoted by state media as saying. “This means the law urgently needs to be updated and strengthened.” The draft includes revisions to 48 clauses and 24 new additions, with one removed, according to the official Xinhua news agency. In education, the draft law states that institutes cannot turn down women on the basis of their gender or require them to meet higher admission standards than men. It also says employers cannot turn away women applicants because of their marital or pregnancy status, and that their salary and benefits must be protected if they are pregnant or on maternity leave . Women in rural areas should enjoy equal pay and land rights and violators could be prosecuted, the draft law says. It also encourages schools and companies to establish a mechanism to prevent and punish sexual harassment against women. Non-violent action that harms women will be deemed illegal, including using superstitious and mind-control practices. Beheaded, groped, beaten: violence against Asian women at alarming levels Communist Party newspaper Beijing News reported that one example of practices deemed to be mentally manipulative – “female morality classes – might be banned under the revised law. In the past, such classes were a frequent occurrence and aimed to use brainwashing methods to control women and make them feel inferior to their partners. Common rhetoric used included “don’t fight back when beaten” and “don’t talk back when scolded”. Women attending these classes were also told they needed to stay pure, “as promiscuous women get gangrene”. They do not. Gangrene, the death of tissue due to a lack of blood supply, is usually caused by injury or infection, not sexual contact. Improved maternity leave allowances met with gender discrimination concerns in China The revised law comes amid greater discussion of domestic violence in China after a string of high-profile cases, including that of Tibetan vlogger Lhamo , who was killed when her ex-husband set her on fire as she live-streamed in 2020 in an attack that shocked the nation. The past few years have also seen more debate on sexual harassment amid the #MeToo movement that began in China in 2018 when Luo Xixi , a former Shanghai University of Finance and Economics student, accused a professor of sexually harassing her. He was fired by the university and since then, many other women – from universities, NGOs, tech companies and the entertainment industry – have come forward with complaints. The revision to the women’s rights law is expected to go through two more readings before being adopted next year. Bai Zhi, a founder of the Inspection Squad for Workplace Gender Discrimination, which monitors job ads and Chinese workplaces, said the organisation had come across many blatant cases of gender-based discrimination. In 2019, the organisation received 822 reports of gender-based discrimination in the workplace and it reported at least 150 of these to labour authorities, according to a document Bai sent to the Post . They received responses to 79 of those reports. Bai, not her real name, said even when the group reported cases of companies only hiring men, those businesses did not acknowledge that it was discrimination. “They don’t change their behaviour – they say it’s because it is specialist work,” she said. Controversy lingers over Alibaba’s firing of sexual assault accuser Dong Xiaoying, a Guangzhou-based lawyer and founder of the Advocates for a Diverse Family Network, said the proposed changes to the law focused on areas that had received a lot of attention in recent years. While she acknowledged that the draft revision provided a clearer definition of gender-based discrimination, Dong said the law was only a basic legal weapon. “For example, the draft bans harassment in relationships and invasion of privacy … in reality, the courts could also simplify the procedures to apply for a restraining order, and the police could have dedicated staff to protect women’s rights in domestic violence cases,” she said. Dong added that other areas still needed to be addressed, including ensuring birthrights for unmarried women.