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Chinese single mothers demand reform after being denied benefits.

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Chinese single mothers demand reform after being denied benefits.
Chinese single mothers demand reform after being denied benefits.

Chinese single mothers demand reform after being denied benefits.

 

 

Sarah Gao had a lot on her plate. She was regularly traveling around China on business trips as the director of a 500 million yuan ($76.8 million) investment fund. Then she found out she was expecting a child.

Her pregnancy with her boyfriend at the time was unplanned. Gao, who was 40 at the time, wanted to hold the baby because she didn’t think she had any other choice. She had no idea that her decision would lead to a nearly four-year court dispute over her maternity benefits.

Her long-running legal battle highlights the challenges that Chinese women face while raising a child outside of marriage. Since their status is in a legal grey area, the vast majority are unable to receive public services such as paid maternity leave and prenatal test coverage. Fines can be imposed on others.

Gao, along with a group of other single mothers, wants to change that. They were part of a small community that petitioned the National People’s Congress’s Legal Affairs Committee at its recently concluded annual meeting, which was coordinated by Advocates for Diverse Family Network. They don’t expect immediate action, but they hope that their concerns will be addressed in the upcoming legislative agenda.

China’s population is increasingly ageing, and the government is eager to encourage more births. In 2015, the government relaxed restrictive family planning regulations, allowing each family to have two children. However, when it comes to single parents, the rules have not changed as easily.

While there are no official figures on the number of single-parent households in China, a survey conducted by the National Health Commission in 2014 projected that nearly 20 million single mothers will exist by 2020. Many of them are the result of divorce, which has nearly doubled in the country from 2009 to 2018, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

Gao gave birth to her daughter in November 2016 after a tough pregnancy. She returned to work following a seven-month maternity and sick leave. Her firm, KunYuan Asset Management, paid her the bare minimum during her sick leave: approximately 1,000 yuan ($153) per month, a substantial reduction from her normal monthly salary of 30,000 yuan ($4,606). During her maternity leave, the company did not pay her.

Gao lobbied the organization for a full wage and maternity leave benefits, with a portion of the money coming from the mandatory social insurance contributions.

Employees in Beijing, where Gao lives, can only apply for certain public benefits through their employer. Gao’s business, on the other hand, declined to apply for her, claiming that her materials were incomplete because she didn’t have a marriage license.

The company asked her to resign after she forced the issue. Gao initially declined to resign, but she was ultimately fired. The business, on the other hand, declined to send her a formal letter acknowledging her departure, making it difficult for her to find new employment.

Email requests for comment were not returned, and phone calls to the company’s Beijing headquarters went unanswered.

In addition to her maternity leave payout, Gao is suing the organization for 1 million yuan ($153,645) in back pay. Since July 2017, she has lost twice in court and is appealing for the third time.

“Gao’s unmarried status while giving birth is not in line with national policy,” the court said each time, “and thus lacked the legal justification for her to earn a salary during maternity leave.”

Unmarried women are not specifically prohibited from having children in China’s family planning policy, but it does state that “the state encourages a husband and wife to have two children.”

This has been interpreted locally to mean that only a married couple is permitted to have children. When attempting to get benefits like prenatal visit reimbursement and salary during maternity leave, this becomes a problem.

According to Dong Xiaoying, founder of Advocates for Diverse Family Network, several local governments need a marriage permit during this process.

There have been some modifications. Governments in Guangdong province and Shanghai have updated legislation to eliminate the requirement for a woman to provide proof of marriage before obtaining benefits.

Shanghai secretly introduced a new regulation in January that eliminated the requirement for a marriage permit in order to qualify for benefits, assisting women like Zou Xiaoqi, a single mother turned activist in Shanghai. In 2017, Zou filed a lawsuit against a Shanghai government department to recover her maternity leave pay and public insurance benefits. Zou received her benefits earlier this month after years of media interviews, court hearings, and lobbying city officials.

The laws must alter, according to Zou, because the cultural stigma still exists. She only recently discovered that her son’s playmate’s mother was also a single mother. They’d been dating for five months when the woman revealed that information.

“Its direct effect is that it puts some single moms who are already in challenging situations in even more difficult situations,” Zou said. “An indirect effect is that some people are afraid to speak up, while others are afraid to face society and would be subjected to a great deal of repression. People who don’t want to marry end up marrying and ending up in an unhappy relationship.”

Single mothers and activists are hoping that a national reform would strengthen the situation for single mothers in other parts of the world, such as Gao. In February, a delegate from Guangdong to the National People’s Congress said that the family planning law would need to be clarified to meet the needs of single mothers, recognizing their legal predicament.

“I just want to know if, under national legislation, I have the right to give birth as a single parent, as an unmarried woman?” Gao remarked.

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Annissa Essaibi-George rips Michelle Wu over Mass and Cass, Long Island Bridge during Boston’s final mayoral debate

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Annissa Essaibi-George rips Michelle Wu over Mass and Cass, Long Island Bridge during Boston’s final mayoral debate

Boston mayoral candidates Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi-George sparred over Mass and Cass and the rebuilding of the Long Island Bridge during their final debate pitch to voters with the election a week away.

The city councilors clashing on the intersection also known as Methadone Mile came on the same day the city started clearing out the sprawling homeless encampment, which is the epicenter of the city’s opioid crisis.

Essaibi-George ripped into Wu during the discussion over the crisis at Mass and Cass.

“Because she (Wu) has been stuck in conversation, she doesn’t truly understand the crisis that is Mass and Cass,” Essaibi-George said during the WCVB debate. “I have spent days, nights and overnights at Mass and Cass, and our city’s residents who are unsheltered are in crisis.

“They need help today, not the start of a conversation,” Essaibi-George added. “This work under my administration will start day one.”

Essaibi-George blasted Wu during a question over whether the city should focus on rebuilding the Long Island Bridge to reopen an addiction recovery campus there.

Boston has been advancing Long Island Bridge plans since 2018, but Quincy, where one side of the bridge would be located, opposes it. A court battle between the two cities is ongoing.

Essaibi-George said she “would not walk away from the battle with Quincy,” promising a bridge would get built during her administration’s first term.

“We can do a bridge hackathon and get this done,” Essaibi-George said, later adding, “We’ve got to move quickly on this, Michelle, we have to move quickly.”

Instead of the bridge, Wu said the city’s resources should be directed toward “urgent action,” including the city providing housing, health care and treatment.

“I do not support focusing our energy on building back a bridge,” Wu said. “This has been a conversation that the City of Boston has had for 6, 7 years now, and it is a major construction project in the order of $250 million-plus.”

That construction in the harbor would happen 5 to 10 years into the future, she predicted.

“I welcome and will lead the way to ensure that all of our regional partners can be working together because this is a crisis that truly affects all of us,” Wu said. “But I want to make sure we’re taking action in the 4-year mayoral term that I’m seeking, not for a bridge project that is out of that frame.

“Let’s use that funding, put it quickly to supportive housing and other structures, and activate Long Island through ferry service so that we can make sure we’re also building a recovery campus back on the island,” she added.

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Battenfeld: Michelle Wu so confident heading into final week she requests transition office space

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Battenfeld: Michelle Wu so confident heading into final week she requests transition office space

Boston mayoral candidate Michelle Wu, riding high in the polls, is so confident of her victory next week that her campaign has requested transition office space and police details for after Election Day, sources say.

Wu’s campaign and representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

The person helping to lead her transition office search, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez, told Acting Mayor Kim Janey’s administration he wanted office space in City Hall “befitting” Wu, according to sources. Janey’s chief of staff, Chris Osgood, was present during the meeting.

Gonzalez, an attorney at Hinckley Allen, did not respond to an email from the Herald requesting comment.

Wu’s opponent, Annissa Essaibi-George, has not requested transition office space or police details, sources said.

Essaibi-George, a city councilor at large, trails Wu, who is also a city councilor at large, by 32 points, according to the latest polls.

Essaibi-George’s campaign has been meeting with the Janey administration about the transition, but they are mostly issues briefings.

Janey herself met with Wu and Essaibi-George last month at the city-owned Parkman House “to discuss the transition timeline” for the next administration.

But the request for office space and a police detail on Election Night came in the last few days, sources said.

Because of Janey’s acting mayor title, the next mayor will take over on Nov. 16 —  not January as is usual for most elections — the day when the election results are certified.

So there will be precious little time for the next mayor to prepare her incoming administration for the transfer of power.

“Starting these conversations with Councilors Wu and Essaibi George now helps ensure the new mayor will be ready to do her job and address the concerns of Boston’s residents on day one,” Janey said in a statement last month.

Janey, the former city council president, was sworn in on March 24 to replace former Mayor Marty Walsh, who departed to become President Joe Biden’s Secretary of Labor. But Janey finished fourth in the preliminary election, just a few thousand votes out of the two-woman final.

Wu has not taken her foot off the pedal over the last few weeks, campaigning hard despite the fact that she holds a commanding lead in the polls.

Her campaign has tried hard to avoid even the appearance of overconfidence.

But requesting an office to use for the transition might qualify as at least confidence.

Essaibi-George and Wu debated on Monday night in their final televised clash of the campaign.

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Facebook’s language gaps weaken screening of hate, terrorism

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Facebook’s language gaps weaken screening of hate, terrorism

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — As the Gaza war raged and tensions surged across the Middle East last May, Instagram briefly banned the hashtag #AlAqsa, a reference to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City, a flash point in the conflict.

Facebook, which owns Instagram, later apologized, explaining its algorithms had mistaken the third-holiest site in Islam for the militant group Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed offshoot of the secular Fatah party.

For many Arabic-speaking users, it was just the latest potent example of how the social media giant muzzles political speech in the region. Arabic is among the most common languages on Facebook’s platforms, and the company issues frequent public apologies after similar botched content removals.

Now, internal company documents from the former Facebook product manager-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen show the problems are far more systemic than just a few innocent mistakes, and that Facebook has understood the depth of these failings for years while doing little about it.

Such errors are not limited to Arabic. An examination of the files reveals that in some of the world’s most volatile regions, terrorist content and hate speech proliferate because the company remains short on moderators who speak local languages and understand cultural contexts. And its platforms have failed to develop artificial-intelligence solutions that can catch harmful content in different languages.

In countries like Afghanistan and Myanmar, these loopholes have allowed inflammatory language to flourish on the platform, while in Syria and the Palestinian territories, Facebook suppresses ordinary speech, imposing blanket bans on common words.

“The root problem is that the platform was never built with the intention it would one day mediate the political speech of everyone in the world,” said Eliza Campbell, director of the Middle East Institute’s Cyber Program. “But for the amount of political importance and resources that Facebook has, moderation is a bafflingly under-resourced project.”

This story, along with others published Monday, is based on Haugen’s disclosures to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which were also provided to Congress in redacted form by her legal team. The redacted versions received by Congress were reviewed by a consortium of news organizations, including The Associated Press. This follows similar reporting by The Wall Street Journal, sourced from the same documents.

In a statement to the AP, a Facebook spokesperson said that over the last two years the company has invested in recruiting more staff with local dialect and topic expertise to bolster its review capacity around the world.

But when it comes to Arabic content moderation, the company said, “We still have more work to do. … We conduct research to better understand this complexity and identify how we can improve.”

In Myanmar, where Facebook-based misinformation has been linked repeatedly to ethnic and religious violence, the company acknowledged in its internal reports that it had failed to stop the spread of hate speech targeting the minority Rohingya Muslim population.

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