Last March, five women were detained after planning a multi-city protest calling for an end to sexual harassment in China’s public transport. Called the Feminist Five, the women were advocates for a range of feminist issues – from ending domestic violence to obtaining more toilets. The treatment that Zheng Churan, Li Tingting, Wang Man, Wu Rongrong, and Wei Tingting received from police while detained captured the attention of the world, who called for authorities to #FreetheFive on social media.
For a month, the women endured extremely harsh conditions. Li Tingting was interrogated 49 times in 27 days. Rongrong faced numerous threats from police who said, “we’ll tie you up, throw you in a cell with men, and let them gang rape you,” and suggested that her 4-year-old son could be endangered. For a month, all five were forced to sleep on floors while some were denied medication.
After their release, the women told the BBC that they remain under surveillance and hope to have their case withdrawn. “They probably want to retract the case now, because there’s nothing to investigate. They are also afraid of us demanding compensation. They need to close this case and return my passport to me,” Li Tingting said. In terms of future activist projects, Tingting said the future looks grim. “The space for us to do things has narrowed greatly in the past few years,” she explained, as the rule of Chinese President Xi Jinping has shown little room for civil disagreement. Still, on November 19, Tingting joined activists from cities around China to call for more women’s toilets.
Despite the government’s watchful, restrictive eye, the BBC notes that some positive changes have come from the plight of the Feminist Five, including a more cohesive movement among pockets of activists. “There were some connections among the associations, of course, but that hadn’t worked together. Now they have a common enemy in some sense,” explained writer Zhang Lija.
Read the full story at the BBC.