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China's Xi Hosts UN Event on Women's Rights

Chinese President Xi Jinping leaves a meeting on gender equality and women's empowerment at United Nations headquarters, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015.
Chinese President Xi Jinping leaves a meeting on gender equality and women's empowerment at United Nations headquarters, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called on world leaders Sunday to boost efforts to improve women's rights. Speaking at a United Nations summit on gender equality, the Chinese leader pledge $10 million to the U.N. agency for women, while drawing sharp criticism from activists and rights groups for China's imprisonment of female activists.

Xi, who organized the event, also pledged to build 100 health centers and 100 school startups for girls in the developing world in the next five years.

But his initiatives drew mixed reviews and sharp rebuke on Twitter from U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. "Xi hosting a meeting on women's rights at the U.N. while persecuting feminists? Shameless," she wrote, in an apparent reference to the detentions of five young Chinese feminists ahead of International Women's Day.

The women were arrested in several cities as they prepared to hand out leaflets about sexual harassment on public transit. They were later released under judicial supervision.

A host of female world leaders nonetheless spoke at Xi's event, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Merkel used her address to stress the importance of protecting women facing rape, enslavement and other abuses in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and other conflict zones across the globe.

In an open letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the five formerly jailed Chinese activists said human rights in China's civil society under Xi's leadership have grown worse.

Washington's U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power acknowledged major improvements in gender parity in large parts of the world since the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment.

In her address, she acknowledged reforms in primary education and efforts to curb extreme poverty. But she also noted the 20 international cases of gender discrimination recently highlighted by the United States, including the arrest of 71-year-old Chinese journalist Gao Yu.

Gao was arrested last year in Beijing along with dozens of others ahead of ceremonies marking the 25th anniversary of the deadly civil unrest at Tiananmen Square. She was later convicted under charges of leaking state secrets and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Power also noted more than 80,000 political prisoners -- many of them, she said, women and children -- languishing in North Korean prisons and facing starvation, forced labor, executions and torture.

She also recognized "countless other [unidentified] women" around the world who remain in prison for their beliefs.

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