by Christina Charie ’25
The famous Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai recently made headlines when she accused former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. After her accusations were made public, Shuai vanished for three weeks. In addition to Shuai’s disappearance, the posts containing the accusations were wiped from her account within thirty minutes of being uploaded. Shuai should not be censored for demanding control over her body, which is what the public believes is the case here. If the disappearance and censoring of Shuai are related to her allegations, then the reaction sets an inadequate standard for a woman’s right to autonomy over her body. Even though Gaoli is not proven guilty in the official sense, the claim certainly warrants investigation.
The global community, including the Women’s Tennis Association, demanded proof from the Chinese government that Shuai was still alive. The WTA even threatened to pull competitions out of China if Shuai was harmed in any capacity. The United States indicated a potential boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics without action from the Chinese government. While videos and photographs proving Shuai was physically safe were eventually released by the Chinese government, one cannot ignore the blatant disregard for Shuai’s statement. Despite representing her country on the international stage, the Chinese government had no concern for her quality of life. One must consider what Shuai’s fate would have been if the international community had not rallied behind her. International pressure, especially economic forms of persuasion, can unfortunately influence the outcome of conflicts surrounding gender issues.
Women face similar toxic situations in other parts of the world. In Afghanistan, the reemergence of the Taliban has only worsened the situation for women in the country. Female reporters live in fear of being caught wearing cosmetics or showing skin. The Taliban perpetuates body-shaming and subsequently demeans women in the process. Wearing makeup should not be up for debate to the public. Clothing and makeup are forms of self-expression. By regulating appearance into adulthood, the Taliban attempts to conceal each woman’s unique qualities.
Additionally, the Taliban are returning to a gender-separated school system, which will inherently lead to educational inequities between genders. Clearly, women have been denied opportunities based on sex in Afghanistan after the Taliban’s takeover.
The international community should hold countries or organizations like the Taliban accountable for sexist actions against women, something they have yet to do. Leaders certainly can condemn the actions of a particular government, terrorist group, or individual accountable by avoiding blanket statements. A united force against gender inequality will prove more formidable than sporadic support.
The events these past few months have set a new precedent in China and Afghanistan by questioning women’s credibility and value. Every single woman should be gravely concerned by the current situation if they want to enjoy the privileges of education, athletics, and freedom of speech. While the battle for women’s rights seems geographically distant from the United States, the conflict is still present and not to be ignored.