Detention of feminists clouds Xi's UN pledge

UNITED NATIONS • Chinese President Xi Jinping has pressed for the world to step up efforts to improve women's rights, but his push was clouded by his own country's detention of feminists.

Paying his first visit to the United Nations (UN), Mr Xi on Sunday invited fellow world leaders to a special session to mark 20 years since a landmark UN conference on women in Beijing.

He announced a US$10 million (S$14.3 million) pledge to the UN agency for women and said China would, in the next five years, build 100 health centres and an equal number of school start-ups for girls in the developing world.

"China will do more to enhance gender equality as its basic state policy," Mr Xi said, citing a Chinese proverb that women "hold up half the sky".

The 1995 conference declared that "women's rights are human rights" and called for women's full incorporation in schools and government.

But China earlier this year detained for one month five young feminists ahead of the March 8 International Women's Day.

China rounded up the women as they prepared to hand out leaflets about sexual harassment on public transport.

United States President Barack Obama did not attend Mr Xi's meeting, instead issuing a statement vowing to "work tirelessly" for a world in which "every woman and girl can enjoy the rights and freedoms that are her birthright".

Mrs Hillary Clinton, who is campaigning to succeed President Obama and become the first female US president, condemned Mr Xi and voiced support for the #FreeThe20 campaign that aims to release 20 women activists around the world.

"Xi hosting a meeting on women's rights at the UN while persecuting feminists? Shameless," she wrote on Twitter.

As US First Lady, Mrs Clinton gave a speech at the 1995 Beijing conference that was considered influential in bringing a woman's role in society to the level of a fundamental universal right.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2015, with the headline 'Detention of feminists clouds Xi's UN pledge'. Print Edition | Subscribe