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Chinese women still politically invisible

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Women hold up half the sky, said Mao. The dark, moonless, night sky? For where are they?

China has the world’s second largest economy and the world’s largest population.  So large, in fact, that one in every five women in the world is Chinese.

Yet despite this, politically speaking, they are all but invisible.

With Communist party diehard Xi Jinping having recently been confirmed as China’s new leader, with him came six other communist powerhouses, all men, who together form the Standing Committee, the most powerful decision making body in China.

This group of men will ostensibly run China for the next ten years, and not one of them is exactly known for their reformist views.

So, no women at the heart of power then.  No big surprise – there has never been a woman on the Standing Committee.

But what of the larger Politburo, the country’s main policy making body?  Well, female representation has actually doubled in the recent political transition.

There are now – wait for it – two women in the 25 strong body, as opposed to just one.   They are Sun Chunlan and Liu Yandong.

So far, not terribly encouraging.  But even this bleak picture represents an erosion of gender equality – since 1997, China has fallen to 53rd place in the world in terms of female representation at its parliament.

Better news at the Chinese Communist National Congress a few months ago, though, where the number of female delegates rose to 521  -out of a total of 2,270.

That’s 76 more women than attended in 2007.

But who were these women?

According to The People’s Daily website, they were little more than window dressing at a boys and their ploys convention.

The website most courteously published a 14-photo slideshow labeled ‘Beautiful ritual girls, female reporters and delegates to the Party Congress become beautiful scenery during the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.’

For many, that just about sums up the status women enjoy in China.

Yet, since the formal establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the government has always stated their committed to the long term goal of achieving equality between men and women.

If they are looking to play the long game, they are certainly succeeding.

Feng Yuan, head of the Anti-Domestic Violence Network in Beijing, described it as ‘the longest revolution’ and went on to say, ‘All other revolutions are pretty easy and short in comparison.’

She is not wrong.  Let’s take a look at a few hard facts and figures.

Although female participation in the workforce has increased in the last fifty years, and a large percentage of Chinese women are now employed – 70 percent, compared with 25 percent in India – and although their representation in higher education has also increased, they continue to suffer economically, socially and politically.

There is still a large gender pay gap.

Urban Chinese women earn about 67 percent of what men make, according to a 2010 survey from the All-China Women’s Federation, whose website provides a host of statistics on the reality of the place of women in China.

Only 2.2 percent of working women in China are in management positions.

Girls are required to score higher than boys on college entrance exams.

Reports of female infanticide and sex selective abortion have streamed out of China since the ‘one child policy’ was introduced in 1978.

There is no doubt that this very public gender preference is a direct reflection of the status of Chinese women in general, and their battle for equality does indeed look to be a long one.

Ironic, then, that it was Chairman Mao himself who once infamously said that ‘anything men can do, women can do too’, and that women ‘held up half the sky’.

But when women are still frozen out of the political system, how much can they ever actually achieve, when the parameters of what they are allowed to achieve are dictated by men?

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