For women in China, Xi Jinping’s stay in the presidency could cause setbacks; understand | World

As Xi Jinping consolidates power at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) this week, Chinese women are not waiting for much for gender equality.

Xi’s decade as the party’s general secretary has seen the number of women in politics and elite government positions shrink and gender disparities in the workforce widen, academics and activists say. Feminist voices have also been silenced, and in recent years the government has increasingly emphasized the value of women’s traditional roles as mothers and caregivers, they add.

Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic, said that “women hold half the sky” and gender equality is enshrined in the country’s constitution.

But under Xi, power has become much more concentrated compared to how it was 10 or 15 years ago, when competing coalitions in Chinese politics sought to be favored by women — resulting in more female representation, according to Cheng Li, an expert in Chinese politics. Chinese policy at the Brookings Institution in the United States.

“[Agora,] the tendency is generally for women to serve as MPs or [terem] more symbolic positions”, explains the scholar.

The congress, held every five years, is set to see the party’s highest leadership group — the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee — remain, as usual, all-male.

For the 25-member general committee, the only obvious candidate to join is Shen Yiqin, the party’s provincial head. Currently, the only female member of the group is Sun Chunlan, 72, who has spearheaded China’s zero covid-19 policy — and she is expected to retire soon.

Sun Chunlan attends a press conference after the closing session of the National People’s Congress of China (NPC) in 2018 — Photo: AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

The next group in the CCP hierarchy is the central committee, which has 371 full and alternate members, 30 of which are female—approximately 8%. In 2007, they occupied 10% of the seats.

And of China’s 31 provincial-level governors, only two are women.

The lack of women in higher positions in politics appears to be at odds with a broad effort by the CCP to increase female representation: the proportion of female party members went from 24% in 2012 to 29% in 2021.

In other areas, such as business, for example, women have also made significant progress.

According to a report by global index provider MSCI, they accounted for 13.8% of Chinese company directors in 2021, up from 8.5% in 2016. In addition, about 55% of startups Chinese technology companies are founded by women, government data show.

Even so, the lack of female leaders in government makes a difference — and, according to experts, this absence has caused setbacks for women.

“It really seeps into things we see in society,” says Valarie Tan of the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Germany. “Women’s rights, birth rates, gender pay gap and things like domestic abuse.”

The Women’s Federation, which is the Chinese government body responsible for women’s rights, did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters. In a Sept. 27 statement, the institution says that China has made “steady progress in women’s causes” over the past decade and that women in the country enjoy equal rights.

At a time when many countries have made progress in closing gender gaps in the workforce, education, health and politics, China now ranks 102nd (out of 146) in the World Economic Forum’s ranking of gender inequality. In 2012, the year Xi came to power, the country was ranked 69th.

“The environment has certainly gotten worse,” says Grace Wang, 28. “That doesn’t mean it was good before, it was always bad, it’s just that exploration has become more convenient.”

The Chinese woman believes that she was disregarded to advance in a previous job because of her gender and that, even today, in another job, she faces similar problems. “My current attitude towards my career is just making enough money to get by,” she reports.

In a step forward, China last December signaled plans to revise a law to give women more protection from discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace — a review that has had tens of thousands of people suggesting amendments.

However, experts and activists are concerned about government rhetoric about the value of women’s “traditional roles” that has increased with China’s demographic crisis: the nation has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, a growing reluctance to have children and a rapidly aging population.

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during the opening ceremony of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing, China, 16 October 2022.

In a July 2021 speech, for example, Xi spoke of the importance of gender equality, but also said that Chinese women should be “good wives, good mothers” and that they should take up the “mission of their time, intimately link their future and destiny with the future and destiny of the motherland”.

Experts also point to more concrete setbacks for women’s rights.

China will discourage abortions that are not medically necessary, the National Health Authority said in August, prompting protests on social media. Similarly, a new law imposing a 30-day cooling-off period after filing for divorce has sparked widespread outrage, including from groups concerned about victims of domestic abuse.

Furthermore, feminist activism, which appeared to be gaining traction in China in 2018 with the #MeToo movement, is quickly quashed by the government with forced cancellation of events, censored online discussions and jailed activists.

“The feminist movement is now very weak and lacks the freedom to evolve. Many social movements have been silenced and women don’t have free will,” said Lu Pin, activist and founder of the now defunct online media channel Feminist Voices.

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