Chinese roller derby and its contribution to gender equality

Dinah Bennett’s recent visit to China fortunately coincided with a milestone event in the progression of women’s empowerment through a unique contact sport which is a growing phenomenon globally. Here she describes her experience and reflections of this symbolic occasion …

Beijing Roller Derby Dinah BennettWomen’s Roller Derby has been around, I was amazed to discover, for almost 100 years, however more recently it has grown hugely in its popularity, and as a sport is fast becoming recognised in China for its underpinning values associated with gender equality in its deepest and broadest sense, as well as with the empowerment of women.

My own experience of Roller Derby was both exhilarating and poignant. The event was truly action-packed and fast-paced, and whilst there was no question about the competitiveness of the players, teams from China, Japan and Thailand also demonstrated a real sense of camaraderie and solidarity, as well as challenging the stereotypical norms associated with Chinese women in sport. This particular event was also so significant because it staged a recent tie-up with UNWomen’s #heforshe Campaign in Beijing which aims to engage both men and women as advocates for gender equality as a human rights issue, not a ‘women’s issue’.

In this video Julie Broussard of UNWomen highlights the aims and growing support for the #heforshe campaign in China

The implications of a raised profile on gender equality in China through events such as the Beijing Roller Derby is significant, not least because it coincided with the introduction of the first ever domestic violence laws to be introduced in the country during April 2016, intended to encourage people to report incidents of domestic violence for the first time.

As reported on,

“Being a ‘feminist’ in China is an identity to be taken up carefully and privately rather than overtly and publicly. Last year, five women were arrested in China in the lead up to International Women’s Day for protesting sexual harassment on public transport … As in many countries, being a “woman” (or girl) comes with certain restrictive norms. In China, despite women’s emancipation and important role in civic life, gender inequality continues, with pressures for women to marry, and very particular standards for beauty and acceptable leisure choices.”

Against this backdrop, the Roller Derby represented a unique platform for women’s empowerment, and presented an opportunity for involvement not just for the players themselves, but also the mixed audience of spectators who participated with huge enthusiasm in both the spectacle and the underlying significance of the event.

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