Women Hold Half the Sky
its phenomenal emergence as an economic powerhouse that
has managed to retain its communist ideology, China has
become the most intriguing country for the world. Not only
has it taken over a good share of the global market, in
terms of development no other country has done it so well
and so fast. But what is most remarkable about China is
that it has shown itself as a leader in terms of gender
equality in the field of employment and political participation.
Today around 46% of the labour force comprise of women.
Among the 16 trades listed in the national economy, 10 hire
more women than the others. In government, there are about
16 women ministers and 29 deputy ministers.
high rate of women's employment and involvement in every
aspect of development indicates China's maturity in recognising
the essential role that women play in nation building. This
in spite of the fact that China, being part of the Asian
community has its own history of feudalism and chauvinism
where women's feet were once bound up to keep them looking
small and dainty- a reflection of how they were perceived.
after China's adoption of a policy of reform and opening
up and its transition from a planned economy to a market
economic system, the pressure of women in every aspect of
the country's progress, had remained prominent and in some
cases more visible.
recent visit to Dhaka of a delegation of All-China Women's
Federation organised by Bangladesh-China People's Friendship
Society provided the opportunity to get a glimpse of China's
remarkable success in creating a society where the importance
of women's participation in economic, political and social
arenas is acknowledged and promoted.
Shiping, a key member of All--China Women's Federation and
leader of the delegation says, that a large part of the
present increase in women's participation in society, can
be credited to the opportunities women can take advantage
of as a result of China's opening up policy. "The Chinese
government and many NGOs have done a lot to help women,"
says Zhang, "especially with the difficulties in employment
during the economic transition."
now make up 43% of employment in education, culture and
arts, broadcasting, television and films. In finance and
insurance, this figure is 41% while in welfare and sports
it is as high as 57.5%. Another important sector where Chinese
women are making significant inroads is business. Women
entrepreneurs make up 20% of the total Chinese entrepreneurial
population. Women's business ventures moreover have created
more jobs for women. In most enterprises run by women entrepreneurs,
female employees make up more than half of the total employees.
areas too, women play a significant role. Over 60% of labour
engaged in horticulture, livestock breeding, processing
and farming, are female. Of this 60%, about 50 million women
work in local township enterprises. "This progressive
scenario has been largely possible," says Zhang, "because
of China's state policy on gender equality and laws to protect
the rights and interests of women."
96 of the Chinese constitution for example, stipulates that
"Women in the People's Republic of China enjoy equal
rights with men in all spheres of political, economic, cultural
and family life. Marriage, the family, and mother and children
are protected by the state." Article 48 of the constitution
stipulates "equal pay for equal work for men and women
alike and trains and selects cadres from among women."
who is also a member of the secretariat of the Federation,
points out that the legal system, too, provides safeguards
for women's rights. Being a signatory to CEDAW (Convention
on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against
Women) China has had numerous laws concerning a wide range
of areas including marriage, maternity and infant health
care and domestic violence. Since women are particularly
vulnerable when it comes to taking legal action, the state
has come up with 'Regulations of Legal Aid to Women and
Protection of Women's Legal Rights and Interests. Their
regulations instruct all relevant institutions such as legal
aid organisations, law offices, notary departments and grass
roots legal service agencies to pay immediate attention
to women's claims, appeals and prosecutions when their rights
and interests are infringed. The order also says that legal
service fees should be reduced or waived for female parties
who are unable to pay.
for women and children, is also a major priority in policy
making. Thanks to a huge network of healthcare facilities
in the cities and rural areas, women and children have access
to hospitals and clinics and health care centres. According
to 2003 statistics, the medical network includes over 3000
health care centres and 89,000 hospital beds for women and
children and 290,000 midwives in the countryside.
are also working committees," Zhang says, "comprising
women children and elders to co-ordinate women and children
represents an organisation that is the largest women's organisation
in all of China. The All-China Women's Federation has over
60,000 full time women workers and almost a million women
volunteers. Founded in 1949, it is a huge organisation that
aims to represent and protect women's rights interests and
to promote equality between women and men. With such an
impressive representation, the Federation has considerable
influence in policy makeup, especially in promoting national
programmes for women and children's development.
federation's motto is to strengthen women's spirit of self-esteem,
self-confidence, self-reliance and self-improvement. This
includes improving their technical and professional skills
and to enhance their overall competence.
state policy is definitely good news for any country but
does it necessarily change age-old chauvinism, which is
very much a part and parcel of all Asian nations, including
founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 no doubt
brought great changes to the social status of Chinese women
giving them access to State leadership and important positions
at every level of society. The recent opening up of the
economy has added increased economic power for the women
of China. Zhang, admits that even now, there are instances
of discrimination especially in employment and domestic
violence is a problem, especially in rural areas. But the
great economic boom China has been enjoying for the last
ten years and its phenomenal development before that can
directly be attributed to equal participation of men and
women has given men more reasons to perceive women as equal
partners in nation building.
gives her characteristic answer when asked about the Chinese
version of feminism. "We don't want to say that women
are superior to men. We accept our mental and physical differences,
which means there will be differences in employment choices
as well as family responsibilities. We just want equal rights
(R) thedailystar.net 2004