Women applaud while watching a Women's Day performance at Guangdong Women's Prison. Photo credit: Xinhua
It usually takes a holiday for China’s imprisoned women to end up in the media, and International Women’s Day is one such occasion. Around this time, domestic reporters generally put the spotlight on the festivities in store for March 8, with the bulk of coverage involving sentence reductions or women in costume. This year, Beijing TV took a different approach and entered Beijing Women’s Prison to talk about the emphasis that the prison places on mental health treatment.
The report begins during a sandplay therapy session of a woman serving life imprisonment for intentional homicide. The woman’s serenity and the success of the prison’s therapeutic programs is the focus of the report, which is bolstered by a separate article putting the prison’s recidivism rate at less than 1 percent.
Beijing Women's Prison focuses on providing psychological counseling to inmates. Photo credit: Beijing TV
However, the video does not address the causes and prevalence of mental health issues among women in prison. Histories of abuse are a major trigger of crime among women in China, and as the “two meetings” (i.e., the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress) unfold, there has been renewed attention to anti-domestic violence legislation as well as data demonstrating its significance. When it comes to intentional homicide, about 10 percent of cases involve love, marriage, or family disputes, according incomplete data cited by Supreme People’s Court Vice President Huang Ermei. A 2005 study revealed that 36 percent of women in Beijing detention centers were victims of domestic violence, as compared to one in four for Chinese women as a whole, according to All-China Women’s Federation Vice President Meng Xiaosi.
Amid the reporting on domestic violence legislation, the Beijing TV report that celebrates the possibility of rehabilitation for a woman convicted of homicide reminds us that capital punishment is not the only sentence possible for Li Yan, a domestic violence survivor who killed her husband. It is unclear why her case is not discussed amid the seasonal upswing in reports on women in prison and domestic violence, but we can only hope that women and women’s rights are acknowledged in the media, and the legal system, on more than one day a year.