Rangita De Silva de Alwis, Director of the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative and Director of Women in Public Service Project, joined HuffPost Live on February 11 for a conversation hosted by Abby Huntsman with Kim Lee, Anti-Domestic Violence Activist, Feng Yuan, Chinese Activist and Board Member of the Anti-Domestic Violence Network, and Shuang Lin, an Exchange Student at Barnard College.  The conversation centered on the landmark case in China which granted Kim Lee a divorce from her husband on the grounds of domestic abuse and discussed the possible social impact this momentous case may have. 

China is one of two countries in Asia that lack a national Domestic Violence law. Lee explained that there are common cultural clichés that often lead to Chinese women remaining trapped in silence, including beliefs that domestic violence should remain a private matter and “dirty laundry” should not be aired in public.  De Silva de Alwis added that laws do exist in China that protect against domestic violence, but until recently domestic violence was only considered violence that caused severe bodily harm—namely death, the loss of a limb, or the loss of an eye.  Lee’s case is historic because it is the first time the court has willingly said that domestic violence consisting of beatings and abuse is a cause for divorce and deserves compensation.

Lee explained that the main reason her case has been different and has achieved results is because she was meticulous about documenting her injuries to use for evidence.  She went to a crime hospital after every incident to have her injuries officially recorded.  Going through this process was incredibly time consuming, painful, and emotionally draining.  Many women simply cannot go through this arduous process of documenting evidence to argue a successful case. 

Lee stressed that she used existing laws and worked within the Chinese system to argue her case.  Many women are not able to do this, or are unaware that they can use the legal system to seek justice for domestic violence, because they are not aware of the laws that exist or how to use them.  De Silva de Alwis addressed this when making recommendations about what can be done going forward to make sure the success of Lee’s case continues to be a catalyst for change in how China and the rest of the world treats domestic violence.   She argued that work needs to be done to educate women and give them the resources and capacity to utilize existing laws and cultivate support. She also stressed the importance of supporting women’s networks, such as the Anti-Domestic Violence Network that worked with Lee in China. These networks are instrumental in cases such as Lee’s in offering support and resources for women.  She also suggested that support must be given to legal aid and access to justice for women all over the world. 

Lee’s case is a turning point in China and has put a face on domestic violence.  Lee remains optimistic that this experience shows that the government is at least open the discussion about domestic violence and has demonstrated openness to constructive criticism, even if it has not made domestic violence a priority.  De Silva de Alwis stated that since the 1995 Beijing women’s conference where Hillary Clinton stated that women’s rights are human rights, women’s groups and brave individuals like Lee have been working hard to make this a reality. Going forward they will continue to have a huge impact on making sure women are able to live a life free from any form of violence.

Watch the conversation at HuffPost Live