From holding up half the sky to returning to the family, where has Chinese women’s rights gone? From holding up half the sky to returning to the family, where has Chinese women’s rights gone?

From holding up half the sky to returning to the family, where has Chinese women’s rights gone?

From holding up half the sky to returning to the family, where has Chinese women’s rights gone?

March 8 is International Women’s Day. Feminism in China has been developing for nearly 30 years, and women’s awareness is gradually rising. Against this background, the Chinese government has repeatedly called for women to return to the family and revitalize the country's population. After the one-child policy has passed into history, can the authorities continue to "control" women's bellies? Where have the family, workplace and political rights of Chinese women gone?

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This year Women’s Day coincides with China’s National Two Sessions. As China's population has been experiencing negative growth for two consecutive years, many young people have chosen not to get married or have children. Among the committee proposals, many involve childbirth policies. For example, some members proposed introducing flexible attendance policies such as working from home one day a week for families with children. Others suggested improving the egg freezing system for unmarried women, including the cost of assisted reproductive treatment in medical insurance, and extending maternity leave for women.

The above-mentioned proposals echo the Chinese official's repeated remarks in recent years that have emphasized the importance of women returning to the family, getting married and having children. In his speech to the All-China Women's Federation in October last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for "strengthening the guidance of young people's views on marriage and love, fertility, and family, and promoting the improvement and implementation of fertility support policies."

However, the Chinese feminist movement has been developing for nearly 30 years since the United Nations World Conference on Women (WWC) was held in Beijing for the first time in 1995. At present, the self-awareness and education level of Chinese women of childbearing age have both improved. Can the government still control their bellies?

China's women's autonomy is on the rise, and the slogan "Return to the Family" is not effective

Feng Yuan, a "veteran" Chinese women's rights activist who witnessed the 1995 Women's Conference, said in an interview with this station that Chinese women's autonomy over their own bodies, including reproductive autonomy, has always been something the state wants to control.

"Having one child is also under the control of the state. Before having one child, the state also had policies to encourage childbirth, and even rated those who gave birth to five or six children as heroic mothers." Feng Yuan said, so in China, women's fertility Function has never been something that women can fully control on their own, "it has always been a battlefield."

In order to control population growth, China implemented a strict one-child policy from 1979 to 2015. Most couples could only have one child, and forced abortions were common. According to Chinese official statistics, the one-child policy resulted in fewer births in China. More than 400 million people. However, as the problem of population aging emerged, Beijing switched to a comprehensive two-child policy in 2016 and further increased the policy to three children in 2021.

However, as Chinese women's awareness of autonomy is rising, Feng Yuan believes that the authorities' current call for women to return to the family and hope that they will get married and have children will not be completely effective. She said: "(Chinese women) have definitely higher autonomy now than before. So we can see that many people voluntarily choose not to get married, and the proportion of voluntary infertility is also increasing. This is an aspect of body autonomy. promote."

Xu Fang, a sociologist who serves as a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, also believes that the Chinese government's "return to the family" slogan is unlikely to have a significant effect, because young Chinese women will weigh that the golden age of 20 years is to sacrifice their dreams. Be someone else’s wife, nanny or mother to their children, or invest in yourself and realize your self-worth.

Xu Fang said that many women choose the latter. She said: "Many girls who have just graduated from college and feel that they have received all kinds of recognition along the way must think, I want to do a good job in my career. I only have this twenty years, and this is what I know how to do." Yes. And then marriage and children are too complicated." 

A "Youth Marriage and Love Intention Survey" conducted in October 2021 for China's "Generation Z" aged 18 to 26 years old: What are young people worried about when it comes to marriage? " showed that among the women interviewed, as many as 43.92% said "not getting married" and ""not sure whether they will get married", which was 19.29% more than men. Among them, the main reason for not wanting to get married was "not wanting to have children". 68.83%. The survey also found that the reasons why young people are hesitant about marriage include individualistic values, the squeeze of time and space in modern life, the "better to have less than to have more" view on mate selection, the high cost of marriage and childbirth, and the "motherhood penalty".

However, Feng Yuan emphasized that national policies and laws still have a strong "guidance" in China, and may still exert some effects by affecting families and strengthening traditional family concepts. She explained: “Especially the pressure on women’s family members, including their husbands, their husband’s family, their own parents, and their own family members. These are all supported by government policies and encouragement policies, which will cause more problems for women. pressure."

Feng Yuan also mentioned that in the past, "women can hold up half the sky" and the current "return to family" are not necessarily opposed to each other, because the government wants to do both, asking women to take on the dual responsibilities of the workplace and the family. "In fact, to put it simply, the government not only hopes that women can participate in the creation of more social and economic value, but also hopes that women can have children."

Young Chinese women don’t want to be born because they don’t have equal rights for men and women  

According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, since the opening of the two-child policy in 2016, China's birth rate has declined instead of rising, from 13.57% that year to 6.39% last year, falling for seven consecutive years. In order to stimulate childbearing, some local governments and enterprises in China have introduced childcare subsidies for families with two and three children, which are paid monthly, annually or in one go. The monthly payment amount is approximately between RMB 300 and RMB 1,200.

However, Feng Yuan believes that "small favors" such as the payment of subsidies are not very helpful in promoting childbirth, because more young people choose not to marry or have children. In addition to wanting to control their own lives and bodies, the cost of childbirth still falls unequally on women. The body is another main reason.

Feng Yuan said that whether it is pregnancy and childbirth, or the division of childcare, unpaid care and labor in the family, more falls on women. "From these perspectives, of course many women feel that this (childbirth) will affect their personal development, including personal career development and the development of personal interests and hobbies. This is a major reason. Of course, there is also financial pressure."

As for whether the proposals proposed by members of the two sessions will be helpful in promoting the establishment of the two sessions? Feng Yuan believes that although these proposals satisfy some of the voices of women to a certain extent, they fail to see the fundamental cause of the problem, which is the lack of a comprehensive and comprehensive social structure that is friendly to women and equal to gender. She said that if relevant construction and policies are not introduced, "if women are given flexibility to work or give women a chance to freeze their eggs, I think the first one will not substantially change gender inequality, and the second one will not have an obvious effect on promoting pregnancy."

Feng Yuan said that if you look at other countries in the world, any country that has done well in gender equality, whether in the public, social or family fields, has relatively high fertility rates, such as the Nordic countries. She suggested that the authorities should introduce truly birth-friendly and gender-equal policies, including making it mandatory for men to take parental leave.

Xu Fang, who has studied Chinese social development for many years, echoed this and pointed out that under the one-child policy, Chinese young adults have no brothers and sisters to share the responsibility for raising children. “The parents then add themselves. If there are two more children, it means two people have to drag the child together.” Eight people, everyone has been hollowed out."

Xu Fang said that only by truly reducing the price that young women have to pay within the family and the responsibilities that they are expected to pay in traditional Chinese culture can it be possible to balance work and family. She said: "If you don't have the support of this social policy, you can give them cash and it will be used up immediately." 

Forced abortion becomes forced childbearing?

So far, most of the slogans and measures adopted by the Chinese government are encouraging. However, Lu Pin, the founder of the Chinese independent media "Feminist Voice" who currently lives in New York, told this station that many people are actually worried and waiting to see whether the policy will become mandatory. However, she believes that it is difficult to adopt compulsory birth control measures because the Chinese government’s strength is “making people not do something”, not “making people do something”.

In addition, Lu Pin also mentioned that it has not been long since the family planning policy ended. If the government turns to very clearly encourage childbirth, "this is actually contrary to family planning and is tantamount to admitting the error of this very important national policy. For the government, this change is not Especially (easy) because there is a price to pay for credibility."

Secondly, Lu Pin pointed out that in order to increase fertility, the government actually has many encouragement methods that can be used, but they are currently only being tested in some places. Another reason is China's emphasis on eugenics.

Lu Pin explained that China, as a country and society, does not allow children with low quality and substandard standards to be born into the world, which is why the abortion rate remains high. "So if your child is not healthy at all, or your child is not born in a heterosexual family or a formal marriage, this country and society advocates abortion... The government may not give up on this easily."

In 2015, Chinese media quoted a researcher from the National Institute of Science and Technology of the National Health and Family Planning Commission as saying that there are as many as 13 million abortion surgeries in China every year, and the rate of repeated abortions is as high as 55.9%, and the abortion rate is getting younger. The report pointed out that the abortion rate for women of childbearing age is the lowest in Western Europe, with an average of 11‰, the United States fluctuates between 20‰ and 30‰, and it is as high as 62‰ in China.

Can women hold up half the sky? The political "ceiling" is difficult to break through

China's late leader Mao Zedong once advocated that "women hold up half the sky." According to the 2022 "China Women's Development Program (2021-2030)" released by the National Bureau of Statistics in December last year, there will be 320 million female employees in China in 2022, accounting for 43.2% of all employed persons. Although it's not even "half the sky", at least it's not too far off.

But if we turn our attention to the political world, the proportion of female participation in China has been cut by almost half. If it is senior leadership, there are even fewer female faces.

According to statistics from China Women's Daily, 2,977 deputies to the 14th Chinese National People's Congress were elected last year, of which 790 were women, accounting for 26.54%, a slight increase of 1.64 percentage points from the previous session. As for the members of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, 2,169 people were elected, of which 487 were women, accounting for 22.45%. According to the National Bureau of Statistics' "Outline for the Development of Chinese Women (2011-2020)", the proportion of women representatives in the past 13 National People's Congresses ranged from 12% to 24.9%, and the proportion of female CPPCC members fell between 6.7% and 20.4%.

The proportion of women in the Central Committee, the center of power of the Chinese Communist Party, is even lower. The 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China in October 2022 will produce 376 members and alternate members, of which only 33 are women, accounting for about 9%. Among the 24 members of the Politburo and the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee, considered the core of the CCP's power, there is not a single woman, breaking the unwritten tradition of having at least one female Politburo member in the past 20 years.

Lu Pin analyzed to our station that China’s political core circle excludes women and is a male alliance, with its patriarchal and authoritarian nature reflecting each other. She believes that even the few women who have entered this alliance before, such as former Politburo members Liu Yandong or Sun Chunlan, "have no connection with the majority of women and are just extensions of what their brothers have done."

Xu Fang pointed out that in the past when China's political power was relatively decentralized, there were actually quite a lot of women participating. "But as power becomes more and more concentrated, there will be very few women at the tip of the pyramid."

Xu Fang said that this phenomenon has not only led to the lack of positive female political models in China for thousands of years, but also the fertility policy formulated by a group of men, which is also difficult to meet the real needs of women. She said: "You can imagine that these men do not do housework, have no childcare experience, and their mentality does not take into account women's real needs. Therefore, I don't think the fertility rate will go up." 

Feng Yuan pointed out that based on the current situation, the proportion of women participating in politics in China should gradually increase to at least one-third. “One-third is a very important critical mass. In the Action Plan of the 4th United Nations World Conference on Women in 1995, China The government has also made such a commitment."

Eight years after anti-domestic violence laws were put in place, are women safer at home?

Feng Yuan began to speak out for women's rights in the 1980s. She actively participated in the "Anti-Domestic Violence Legislation" initiative in her early years and worked hard for more than ten years. In March 2016, she waited until China's "Anti-Domestic Violence Law" was enacted.

Talking about the effectiveness of the anti-domestic violence law eight years after it was put into effect, Feng Yuan told this station that the law will definitely be of substantial help, and there has also been some progress in the fight against domestic violence, but the extent is still far from enough. She explained: "Most responsible agencies have not incorporated anti-domestic violence into their regular work priorities, nor have they incorporated the training and assessment of staff into their daily work. This makes the staff of these responsible agencies very responsive to the needs of help seekers. Not enough.”

The "Beijing Weiping Women's Rights Organization" co-founded by Feng Yuan released a monitoring report at the end of February this year on the 8th anniversary of the implementation of the Anti-Domestic Violence Law. According to the report, as of August last year, courts across the country had issued more than 15,000 personal safety protection orders, of which the number issued by the People's Court in 2022 increased by 34% compared with 2021. However, the average annual number is less than 2,000, which is still in huge contrast with China's huge population, the occurrence of domestic violence, the situation of police reports, and the situation of warning letters.

Feng Yuan pointed out that the most cases of domestic violence in China are still physical violence, and physical violence is often accompanied by some mental violence, verbal abuse, or economic control or exploitation. As for the groups that are often subject to domestic violence, she said: "There is more violence between couples, and there is also parent-child violence. For example, parents treat their children, including adult women, because they are not married, or they are a sexual minority."

Feng Yuan called on the authorities to list anti-domestic violence as a specific requirement for more than a dozen state agencies, including the public security, judicial departments, courts, procuratorates, civil affairs and education departments, and to include anti-domestic violence work in work summary and evaluation, personnel capacity improvement and Work assessment, "This is a very important and practical point."

Looking ahead to the next decade

So, what kind of progress do they most want to see in women’s rights in China in the next ten years? Lu Pin said that most people now talk about women's economic, social and cultural rights, but she is increasingly aware that civil and political rights are more important than anything else.

Lu Pin said: "Now Chinese women are not allowed to fight for their own rights, which means that women should be allowed to decide what rights are important to them, and let them decide what methods they can use to fight for them. I think this is the key." She believes that , the reason why Chinese women’s rights are being suppressed now is because women are not allowed to define and pursue their own rights.

Feng Yuan hopes that in terms of fertility policy, the country can establish a universal childcare policy, establish a mandatory parental leave policy for men, and incorporate maternity insurance into national medical insurance. “Only in this way can we begin to improve women’s fertility conditions. They bear extremely unequal responsibilities and pressures."

In addition, Feng Yuan also hopes to see more improvements in women's bodily autonomy. She said: "Body autonomy reflects many indicators, including the right to mobility, my right not to have children, and the right to enjoy a safe and satisfying sex life, but to reject sexual harassment, sexual assault, and domestic violence." 

She emphasized that this improvement requires some social conditions, including more women participating in decision-making and legislation, and more awareness of gender equality in the formulation of legal policies.

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