Chinese women suffer from male-dominated and inconsiderate society  

Highlighting their importance in fighting the demographic crisis, Chinese President Xi Jinping said women had to play a “critical role” in improving the birth tally of the country.[1] Chinese women however are not considered important in the male-dominated society of China thanks to their harassment and suppression. Gender-based discrimination is prevalent in almost every area, be it the corporate sector, China Communist Party (CCP) and government, as well as the informal job sector. Even those fighting against sexual harassment are silenced.

Data analysis by the Chinese NGO Inspection Squad for Workplace Gender Discrimination said government agencies such as the railway ministry and central bank resorted to gender discrimination.[2]  While the Chinese government has been taking big measures to improve the birth rate, the mandarins in Beijing failed to realise that women were reluctant to make babies as married and working mothers are often rejected for jobs, said Lu Pin, a Chinese feminist activist.[3]  

Amy Su, a 35-year-old designer, was struggling to find a full-time job as hiring managers did not want a married woman with children. She said “Some managers even told me bluntly that they only want to hire fresh graduates because they have more potential, while married women over 35 often lack creativity in their views.” [4] Women suppression can be detrimental to China in a long term, Pin said. “The widespread resentment among women regarding gender inequality is likely to persist and could potentially escalate into a significant challenge for China’s future,” she said.[5]  

Chinese women have abysmal representation in the top government positions. UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) expressed concerns over absence of a single woman at the highest executive level since Xi was re-elected in October 2022.[6] “Since October 2022, there have been no women among the 24 members of the politburo of the Communist Party of China for the first time in 20 years, and no women among the seven members of the standing committee of the politburo,” it said.[7]

When Xi became the president for the first time in 2012, China ranked 69 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. It saw continuous deterioration since then. Now, it has slid down to 107th position.[8]  Covid-19-led restrictions added to the women’s sufferings. “For all of China’s economic leaps and geopolitical bounds, women continue to suffer from inequality and gender-based violence,” said Chen Chen, a research associate at Think Global Health, an initiative of New York-based initiative of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The ruling CCP had never been in support of feminism but earlier it advanced women’s rights whenever it felt the need to further the socio-economic priority. However, Xi never turned to even tokenism, said Yaqiu Wang, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “I never thought the CCP really cared about women’s rights, but they at least paid lip service to it, in part by putting women in select powerful positions,” she said.[9]       

China’s judiciary too does not have a fair record of ensuring justice to women. Popular Chinese TV host Zhou Xiaoxuan suffered for a decade fighting a case of sexual harassment by her co-worker. Her case was dismissed by a court in 2023.[10] She was even forced by police to withdraw the case, she alleged. “Deep down, I am very disappointed. But perhaps at this stage and in such a case, the fact that I lost the battle could provoke more reflection on the real difficulty of being a woman in today’s China,” she said.[11]

Xi government recently passed legislation to prevent gender discrimination and sexual harassment, which women rights activists and experts found ineffective.[12] “The government, which seems intent on reviving the country’s fertility rate to forestall a demographic crisis compounded by zero-COVID, does little to address the patriarchal foundation of these issues. Its short-sighted legislation often makes matters worse,” Chen said.[13]

Notably, women rights activists in China are often attacked by government agencies even though domestic violence and gender discrimination are on the rise. In 2023, a prominent #MeToo advocate Sophia Huang Xueqin and women right’s campaigner Li Qiaochu were tried for state subversion.[14] Expressing concerns over intimidation and harassment against women human rights defenders, the CEDAW demanded “China to investigate and prosecute those who had harassed and abused women rights defenders, including police officers and other State agents.”[15]

















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