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China: Sexual discrimination still rampant

As the world marks International Women's Day, the female half of China's population still face fearful odds in a society that radically curtails their chances of success from birth onwards.

india Updated: Mar 08, 2004 13:59 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

As the world marks International Women's Day, the female half of China's population still face fearful odds in a society that radically curtails their chances of success from birth onwards.

China's 620 million women have enjoyed formal equality with men since the Communist Party came to power in 1949, but five decades on, discrimination remains a fact of life even for graduates from top universities.

"I've been to job fairs all over the country, and each time I go home disappointed," a young women surnamed Lin told state-run Xinhua news agency, as she found her newly-earned diploma was of little use.

"I'm fed up looking for work."

Experiences like this show what happens when the Chinese constitution's lofty words of equal rights in "political, economic, cultural and social, and family life" clash with reality.

A survey from Xiamen University in southeastern China suggested female students have a much harder time than their male counterparts landing jobs.

Among recent female graduates, only 63.4 percent have been successful in finding employment, compared with 72.1 percent for male graduates, Xinhua reported, citing the survey.

"The moment female graduates enter our company, they start thinking about getting married and having kids," a human resources manager told Xinhua.

"That's no good for their commitment to work, and that's why we refuse to take on any women," the manager said.

The country's politics reflects the dire straits faced by women, who only account for a small minority in the National People's Congress, the rubber-stamp parliament currently meeting in Beijing.

Among the nearly 3,000 delegates streaming into the capital's Great Hall of the People every morning, only about 20 percent are women and they rarely take the floor to address the assembly.

The Communist Party, which marked its seizure of power 55 years ago by abolishing arranged marriages, does little in the way of setting an example.

Of 198 full members of the party's Central Committee, only five are women, comparing unfavorably with the previous Central Committee, where seven out of 193 seats were held by female party members.

And the party's nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, the handful of people making all decisions of any consequence in China, includes no women.

In the countryside, home to the vast majority of Chinese, traditional mindsets contribute to reinforcing the suppression of women, according to state media.

Women account for about 70 percent of the 30 million people in rural China classified as poor, Xinhua said.

Among rural women who are victims of domestic violence, only about half try to seek outside help, usually from their relatives or from local officials, the Xinhua news agency said.

And some women never get a chance, as ultra-sound scanning reveals their sex before birth, motivating some parents to abort female foetuses because they desperately want a son.

As a result, 117 boys are now born for every 100 girls, up from 109 in the 1980s, according to the People's Daily website.

"Deep-rooted feudal beliefs, combined with a steady improvement of medical technologies, have led to the skewed sex balance at birth," Li Weixiong, a population expert, told the People's Daily.

Li said the bias towards baby boys will mean a large surplus of men in just a few years' time.

It is estimated that by 2020, there will be 30 million more men than women of marrying age in China.

But rather than giving young women better chances of finding a suitable match, it could actually worsen their condition, Li warned.

"It will mean a great boost to the sale of women for marriage, to the trade in abducted women, and to prostitution," he said, according to the People's Daily.

First Published: Mar 08, 2004 13:59 IST