"If laws cannot protect poor and helpless persons like my litigant, why should we lawyers exist?"
After she became a lawyer for public legal aid, the first case that Guo Jianmei took was of a woman trying to pursue a lawsuit for her son; on her way to Beijing, a car knocked her down, causing damage in the clavicle and lumbar regions and blinding her in one eye. According to all relevant departments, the other party in the accident should have taken full responsibility but they paid merely 30 thousand yuan, which was a pittance - an artificial eye would have cost 100 thousand yuan. To make matters worse, the 30 thousand yuan was later stolen.
Guo took the case. “If laws cannot protect poor and helpless persons like my litigant, why should we lawyers exist?” she said. Guo was devoted to the case; the procurator script was over 10 thousand characters and Guo gave it her best, debating vigorously in court. This was the first case that Guo took up after the establishment of the Women’s Laws Research and Service Center in the Law School of Peking University. And it was during the proceedings of this case that she became determined to be a lawyer for public legal aid.
Guo was born in October 1961 in a teachers’ family in Huan County, Henan Province. Before going to university at the age of 18, she had witnessed the poverty, underdevelopment, and the violation of women’s rights in the village where she lived. All these left their mark and remained deep in her heart.
In 1983, Guo graduated from the Department of Law, Peking University. Later she worked in the Institute of Judiciary, the Legal Consultant Office of the National Women’s Federation and the “China Lawyers” magazine of the National Lawyers’ Association. While working at these posts, she continued paying attention to the protection of women’s rights and interests.
From 1993 to 1995, Guo cooperated with the Institute of Law, Chinese Academy of Social Science to implement the project “ A Study on the Existing Problems in Implementing Women’s Law in China and its Counter Measures”. They carried out profound investigations and research on the situation and the problems faced in the protection of women’s rights and interests in China. A substantial special report of the study was written.
In 1995, after attending the Fourth International Forum for Women Lawyers, Guo initiated the Women’s Laws Research and Service Center in the Law School of Peking University. In 1996, she resigned from the post of assistant editor of China Lawyers starting to work in the Center to provide legal aid for women full time till today.
The role that Guo assigned herself to was of becoming one of the members of the first generation of influential civil lawyers and NGOs. And this became the legal platform for her work. As the leader of the Center, Guo provides free legal services to poor people, particularly with the aim of protecting the legal rights of poor women in need.. She helps poor women to solve their problems from a new perspective, guaranteeing their legal rights in the social, political and economic arena. She also arouses their awareness of women’s rights and helps them to acquire legal knowledge, aimed at eliminating their poverty, both spiritual and cultural. This is also enhances the personal development and fulfillment of women.
During its nine years of operation, the Center has received nearly 40 thousand legal consultations - through telephone, letter, personal visit and e-mail - which have come from 28 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities. It has handled over 430 cases for poor women around the nation, free of charge. Typical problems faced by the women include violation of labor rights among rural migrant workers in the city, entrenchment of female factory workers, domestic violence, violation of women’s rights in marriage and family, sexual harassment and sex discrimination. There are more than 80 complicated cases being handled by the Center through legal action and active research, exploring different ways to protect women’s rights, to provide legal aids, and to give feasible legal advice. Guo also participated in the revision of the “Marriage Law” in 2001 and the enactment of the “Regulations for Legal Aid” in 2003. She has published 8 books of her own , and edited three volumes of the popular law readers Everyday Life Law, and A Guide to Women’s Legal Aid Cases.
Guo is conscious of absorbing relevant experience from overseas. As a matter of fact, she herself and the Center are the products of international exchange. Since 1993, Guo has visited many countries like the USA, England, Canada, Holland, India, Thailand, Malaysia, and Cyprus. In these trips, she either visited women’s rights groups and organizations providing legal aid, or took part in international seminars.
During these past ten years, Guo has been urging herself to work faster and harder. “ The moment I decided to set up the Center, I set my life’s goal at becoming one of the first-generation civil lawyers in China. With this goal, I have to dedicate all my physical and mental strength, and to sacrifice my material comfort.”“In my opinion, the career that is least understood by the public requires most the people’s contribution. And those who want to take up this career should not only be equipped with professional competence, but a great sense of sympathy, of justice, and enthusiasm. I believe I am the right person. And I know the society needs such people.”
Guo Jianmei aims at promoting the endeavors of civil rights lawyers and setting up influential NGO's in China. She committed herself to the protection of women’s rights immediately after graduating from university. From 1989 to 1993, Guo worked full time on the drafting of the “Law for Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests.” She did much research work and wrote related articles of up to 400,000 characters. She also co-published the book “A Guide to the Law for the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests.” From 1993 to 1995, Guo cooperated with the Institute of Law, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences to implement the project “A Study on the Existing Problems in Implementing Women’s Law in China and its Counter measures.” They did extensive investigation of, and research into, the protection of women's rights and interests, and a substantial report was written. In 1995 Guo attended the Fourth International Forum for Women Lawyers. After this she started the Center for Women's Law Studies and Legal Services at the Law School of Peking University. Since resigning her post as assistant editor of the "China Lawyers" journal in 1996, Guo has been working in the Center providing legal aid for women. While representing the poor, Guo once raised the query: “If laws cannot protect poor and helpless persons like my litigant, why should we lawyers exist?”
Guo provides a free legal service to poor people, aiming particularly at protecting the legal rights of poor women. She helps them to solve their problems from a new perspective, guaranteeing their legal rights in the social, political and economic arena. She also arouses women’s awareness of their rights and available means of acquiring legal knowledge. Such measures are aimed at eliminating poverty, both spiritual and cultural. This is also the way to enhance women's personal development and fulfillment.
China's legal environment is in need of immense improvement and there is much prejudice against the rights and interests of women. Thus it is imperative to provide professional services for women in terms of knowledge provision, consciousness raising and legal advice.
Center for Women's Law Studies and Legal Services of Peking University
Eastern Asia | China