China carpool app receives swift backlash for imposing 8pm curfew for women

Young Asian woman using mobile app on smart phone to arrange taxi ride in downtown city street, with blurry traffic scene as background. Source: Moment RF

China’s largest ridesharing company, Didi, was set to relaunch its carpool service after it was shutdown following the murder of two women last year.

The Chinese rideshare company Didi has been forced to backtrack on a ‘safety measure’ after widespread criticism of an unequal curfew for men and women.

Didi’s carpool service Hitch pairs passengers and drivers heading in the same direction. Passengers tag along for the ride and chip in for petrol money. 

Hitch was suspended after two women were murdered using the carpooling service. When the service relaunched, it imposed an 8pm curfew for women and an 11pm curfew for men. The measure was panned by users as unfair for women. And, following a backlash on Chinese social media, the company announced it would operate until 8pm for all genders.

Didi said the app will return with other new safety features, including checks on drivers and passengers.

Valued at $81 billion, Didi is the third-highest valued startup in the world. However, the recent murders have dented Didi’s image as it tries to expand into international markets and compete with rivals such as Uber, and prompted the company to pledge to prioritise safety over growth.

Elly Sun, a Chinese international student studying in Sydney, said she regularly used the ride sharing app when she lived in China and was disappointed when she heard about the regulation.

“I can’t stop rolling my eyes about this news, it was so discriminatory,” she told Dateline.

“As a huge company they should treat women and men equally. They are widening the gap.”

Elly said she does not feel more unsafe as a woman in China compared to Australia.

The backlash for the rideshare apps was so swift and widespread, the ABC reported that China’s state media questioned if Didi’s curfew restrictions were the best way to ensure safety. 

“[China] tends to underemphasize the role of public opinion, in part because we have no accurate way to assess the views of the public,” Ms Kassam said.

“But there are some cases like this one where public opinion has had a significant effect on the behavior of large companies or even the government.”

Backlash success for gender equality

The first communists in China said they were supportive of gender equality, explains the Lowy Institute’s diplomacy and public opinion research fellow Natasha Kassam.

“And it was enshrined in China’s constitution,” she told Dateline.

“China claimed to have the largest female workforce in the world in the 1970s.”

But the rise of China’s contemporary feminist movement has been more complicated.

“The feminist movement in China, like most civil society causes, has been under significant pressure from the Chinese party-state,” Ms Kassam said.

“The feminist movement has a message that resonates with millions of young Chinese women, and they have been able to network, organise and press for change – all of which is seen as a risk by China’s Communist Party.

“The perceived connection between feminism in China and that of the ‘West’ is seen as particularly risky in China.”

The arrest and imprisonment of five feminist activists on the eve of International Women’s Day in 2015 recieved worldwide attention.

In addition, the #MeToo movement has been censored on Chinese social media by the government.

“This was largely unsuccessful, and the #MeToo movement saw the broader Chinese public interested in and engaging with feminism,” Ms Kassam explains.

The mandarin words for ‘rice-bunny’ sound like #MeToo. So, as a way of avoiding censorship on the platform, people started using the emoji of a bunny when they wanted to discuss #MeToo.