Women are the Battleground of the Uyghur Genocide
April 17, 2024
| By Rushan Abbas
Dr. Gulshan Abbas, left, with sister Rushan, right.

The Chinese Communist government’s occupation in 1949 of my homeland East Turkistan, known by the occupiers as Xinjiang – meaning “New Frontier,” marked the beginning of my people’s nightmare and the onset of a dark chapter in human history: the most intricate and technologically advanced model of genocide in our times.

Under the guise of “national security,” the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses Orwellian surveillance and military dominance in the Uyghur region to commit genocide against the Uyghur people. The entire population is oppressed: Uyghurs are arbitrarily detained en masse and many have disappeared, and are subjected to indoctrination and brainwashing, forced labor, biometric data harvesting, and unspeakable mental, physical, and sexual torture.

The 2022 report by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights found that China’s atrocities may constitute crimes against humanity.  Fifty-one United Nations member countries have issued a joint declaration condemning the Chinese government’s actions and crimes against humanity. The United States has declared that the Chinese government is committing genocide and crimes against humanity due to its repression of Uyghurs.

The bodies of Uyghur women constitute much of the battleground of this repression. The Chinese government especially targets women because they are key to the Uyghurs’ present and future existence. Open source data, testimonies, pictures, videos, and leaked documents provide proof that Uyghur women are subjected to forced sterilization, forced abortions, family separation, forced marriages to Han Chinese men, and intrusive surveillance.

The CCP controls the reproductive rights of Uyghur women. The Party seeks to suppress Uyghur birth rates as a means to colonize the Uyghur homeland and expand its reach. They are succeeding. The Uyghur birth rate has dropped to 0% in some of the densely Uyghur-populated regions. The Chinese Embassy to the United States tweeted on their official account about how they are “liberating” Uyghur women so that they are “no longer baby-making machines.” They praise forced marriages and “interethnic mixing,” claiming our way of life is ‘backward’ and that they are improving the population pool. This is the very definition of eugenics.

The Chinese government’s state media has reported that 1.1 million Han Chinese cadres, primarily men, have been deployed into Uyghur homes to supervise and monitor their daily lives. With most Uyghur men in detention, prison, or forced labor facilities, Uyghur women often are subject to sexual abuse inside their own homes.

Can you imagine your own home becoming a hell worse than a prison? A government official shares your bed, mingles with your children, and instructs them to monitor and report your every move. Any Uyghur women who undertake any form of resistance to this unprecedented level of state-sponsored intrusion are labeled ‘extremists.’ They are taken away for ‘re-education’ and disappear from society.

My sister, Gulshan Abbas, a retired doctor devoted to healthcare, was taken away. She now has been detained for five years and eight months. Her detention is an act of the CCP’s transnational repression: She was abducted due to my advocacy in the United States. Exercising my freedom of speech in the US as an American citizen has cost my sister her freedom back home.

Wanting to practice one’s religion is not extremist; freedom of conscience is a fundamental human right. Depriving women of the ability to bear children is not progressive; it is an infringement of their rights. The desire to raise children is not backward; but integral to keeping humanity moving forward. Forcing women to marry outside their culture and religion is not modern; it robs us of our right to choose the future we want to leave behind.

Yet most of the world is silent.  And this silence is by design.

Do we see the UN taking effective steps to address this repression? No. Do we see enough coverage of the Uyghur atrocities? No.

UN Secretary-General Guterres never has mentioned the word “Uyghur” since 2017 when he began his term.  The CCP funds multilateral, human rights, and women’s rights organizations within the UN. China, as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, sits on the UN Human Rights Council while committing crimes against humanity on Tibetans, Hongkongers, and Southern Mongolians, while implementing genocidal acts against Uyghurs. Additionally, China is one of the largest contributors to the UN’s regular and peacekeeping operations budgets, granting them both soft and hard economic power to influence crucial processes. Xi Jinping, the mastermind behind the Uyghur genocide, is praised at the UN for implementing gender equality and women’s development.

Mainstream media and social media platforms are saturated with Chinese propaganda. They show stereotypes of the happy, dancing women of ‘Xinjiang’. They don’t even acknowledge them as Uyghurs, reducing them to mere figures from a region.

We also know that multinational corporations are using our people as slave labor, at least four of them with ties to the Holocaust

Many would find it convenient if the Uyghur people were silent and accepted the fate that has been imposed upon us due to our unfortunate strategic location on the world map, coupled with the natural wealth buried beneath our deserts.

The Chinese Government and the world have underestimated us, especially our women. We are strong, highly educated, and purpose-driven. We are not only the bearers of our community, culture, and religion but also the strong and resilient voices for those suffering in East Turkistan. We aren’t going anywhere.

My organization, Campaign for Uyghurs (CFU), aims to nurture the power of Uyghur women in the diaspora to be the leaders and changemakers our community needs. We hold advocacy training workshops across the globe to empower Uyghur women to become strong advocates for themselves and our people back home. We have taught ourselves these skills which, for many of us, have taken a lifetime to learn including how to: speak to government officials; frame the issue and a call to action; navigate the complex geopolitical landscape; counter disinformation; effectively use social media; and refine our voices to change minds. With every workshop, we strengthen our community and the network of incredible Uyghur women who are driving our cause forward.

Uyghur women are capable and ready, but we require the help of allies. We urgently need a broader array of platforms, and significantly larger ones, to more effectively raise our voices against the egregious atrocities that are underway in East Turkistan. We need more representation in the media: the world must see our faces and hear our voices. Only when the general population more regularly sees us and hears our plight will they feel responsible for helping address our pressing concerns. Public opinion plays an integral part in shaping public policy, and it will change only when people talk at the dinner table about what is happening to the Uyghurs.

The repression of Uyghur women must become a top women’s rights issue, with women’s organizations across the globe placing the treatment of Uyghur women at the top of their agendas and addressing this treatment in every conversation about women at every level of government.

The conversation about women’s rights and freedom of choice is deeply deficient without highlighting Uyghur women and their right to have children and raise them in dignified conditions and must include a Uyghur woman’s right to practice her religion, choose her spouse, and bear and raise her children according to her beliefs. Women should have the freedom to choose their future.

If the genocidal policies against my people are not addressed fully, our world will see lineage after lineage die. These atrocities will not end with my people. One genocide always paves the way for the next. I hear often that China holds too much control and power and that the livelihoods of too many are intertwined with China’s economic activities and political power. We cannot selectively defend human rights based on convenience. In that case, we betray our values and take an active role in paving the path for more widespread oppression and injustice.

If we do not raise our voices and speak out, then the only voice left tomorrow will be one of regret.


Rushan Abbas is a Uyghur American activist and co-founder and Executive Director of the Campaign for Uyghurs (CFU). CFU advocates for Uyghur human rights and democratic freedoms, rallying the international community against the atrocities taking place in East Turkistan.

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