From Bitter Winter
By Rushan Abbas
Uyghur women are raped, compelled to marry Han Chinese, detained in the dreaded transformation through education camps, and killed. Why do Western feminists ignore their tragedy?
Feminism. A movement which has meant so much to so many. The belief that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities, and the organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests is vital to the health of any society.
In our modern world, Western societies pore over each and every policy, every statement, every legal case to pull out the feminist issues that may be raised by current questions. We critique and we rejoice in societal victories, we organize and advocate, and while this dedication to achieving equal opportunity and a safer world for women is admirable, criticism of the movement comes in the seeming unwillingness to comment directly on geo-political concerns in regions that create environments rife with women’s rights abuses.
To understand women’s rights abroad, we must look beyond the surface and dig in to reveal with special understanding. While we desire the creation of a utopian society in our own borders, a problem may arise as we inadvertently ignore some glaringly abhorrent things happening to women across the globe. A particularly appalling plight that the world is largely silent on is the current situation for Uyghur women in land occupied by China and abroad.
Women in East Turkistan, referred to as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region by the Chinese government, are forbidden from practicing their religion, and forbidden from speaking their mother tongue. They are prohibited from naming their children as they choose, and discouraged from wearing clothing that marks them outwardly as Muslim, they often have their clothing forcibly cut by the authorities to resemble more immodest Western styles. Beyond the surface level requirements for conformation, they are also facing rape, “brainwashing,” forced sterilization, and other types of seemingly unimaginable abuse, and the perpetrator of these crimes is the Chinese government itself.
While millions of Uyghur men and women of all ages languish in Chinese state-run concentration camps, complete with guard towers and crematoria, millions more are sent out to factory jobs where they cannot leave the facilities without permission, functioning as literal slaves. Mothers are forcibly separated from their children, who are often placed in Chinese state-run orphanages in spite of the fact that their parents are alive.
Women who have escaped from the camps reported being forced to take unknown medications which altered their moods and stopped them from menstruating.
Most disturbingly, China has amped up long-standing policies of utilizing neighbors to spy on Uyghurs, furthering the purpose of such policies by initiating new variations. Communist Party cadres are incentivized by the government to move into Uyghur homes under a “double relatives” program to supervise the family. For most women, whose husbands are in the concentration camps or Chinese prisons, this creates environments where the women are vulnerable to sexual abuse, as many of these cadres have been photographed and filmed sharing their beds.
Uyghur women are also forced into marriages with Han Chinese men, a part of China’s strategy to force assimilation of the Uyghurs, colonize the region and take its resources while promoting the Belt and Road Initiative. There is no other way to view this other than as government-sponsored mass rape of an entire race of women with the express purpose of “breeding” the Uyghurs bloodline away. Uyghur women are unable to give birth to Uyghur babies anymore. Thus, there are no more new Uyghur generations and the Chinese government’s systematic genocide is set on the rails with an autopilot mode.
Modern Chinese culture provides the appearance of a liberal and equal environment for women, with supposed equal protection under the law. However, we must understand that the concept of sexual liberation in the West and its influence on Asian countries including China, have led many to equate societal openness with rights, while failing to recognize that in the case of Uyghur women in East Turkistan, sexual openness is forced upon many who do not desire to live in the style of the atheistic, pleasure-driven society that is considered modern among younger generations in China. Ironically, while such openness is often decried by government officials as western decadence, it is the very standard of behavior that the Chinese government has chosen to use to test the religiosity of women who they consider a potential “threat” to their regime. Those who refuse these petty tests may be classified as religious extremists and sent to the concentration camps.
For the few brave individuals who speak up, often their family members face unimaginable consequences. As their family members disappear, feared by relatives to be victims of the camps, a clear retaliatory action for advocacy efforts abroad in many cases, we find the ultimate examples of strong women: Uyghur women, who have chosen to speak up for their loved ones and their people, and these efforts have been punished and largely ignored. Where are the Muslim sisters and brothers? Where are the Hollywood icons who proclaim themselves to be advocates for human rights? Where are the feminists? This war on the Uyghurs is brutally carried out as a war on women also.
Recognizing these widespread policies of abuse that are used as tools for cultural assimilation, and conveniently, rebranded as “preventing extremism” by the Chinese government, the economic benefits for the Chinese Communist Party are quite substantial and cannot be ignored. As they treat an entire race of women as subservient, it’s time for women across the world to stand together in meaningful, sacrificial ways to advocate for the true respect and dignified lives that Uyghur women deserve. By addressing our own countries’ complicity in empowering those who would prop up these systems of abuse, we will allow the true aims of the feminist movement to triumph. The U.N. has been bought, the leaders of the free world are silent, and Hollywood allows itself to be run by Chinese money. They may sell their soul, but the soul of women is strong, and the truth will be triumphant in the end.
Rushan Abbas is the Executive Director of Campaign for Uyghurs, a non-profit organization which advocates for the human rights and democratic freedoms of Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples. She started her activism work as a student, participating in the pro-democracy demonstrations at Xinjiang University in 1985 and 1988 and continues to frequently brief US lawmakers and officials on the human rights situation in her native region. She regularly appears on media outlets to advocate for the Uyghur cause and gives public speeches in universities and think tanks. She currently resides in Herndon, Virginia.