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Women's Lot Still A Disgrace Despite Social, Economic Reforms, Says Survey

China's women are slowly rising in status, but still face enormous difficulties, ranging from feudal oppression to unemployment and the restructuring of state enterprises, a survey shows.

"Because the social and economic situations are changing fast...women's rights are not fully protected and in some places are seriously violated," the survey, carried out by the Xinhua News Agency, and conducted by the Civil and Judicial Affairs Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), says.

"Women may be especially hard-hit by the wave of reforms to unprofitable state enterprises," it says, pointing out that women were usually laid off before their male colleagues.

The restructuring of state-run firms, which the government has promised to speed up this year, is threatening 20 million jobs, or almost one in five. And according to official statistics, 60 per cent of state employees sacked so far have been women, although they represent about 45 per cent of the urban workforce. Women also have to fight harder than men to gain positions of responsibility in the private and public sector.

"The gender gap still exists," says the survey, whose results were

presented to top women's rights activist Chen Muhua, vice-chairperson of the NPC Standing Committee and president of the All-China Women's Federation. "Women's involvement in politics is at a far-from-satisfactory level. Women are still discriminated against in workplaces and their situations in overseas, private and township enterprises have not been improved."

Three survey groups drew up the study last month, based on the southern boom province of Guangdong, Shanxi in the north and Sichuan in the southwest. In Shanxi, a breakthrough has been reached with the appointments of a female city party chief, a female mayor and a female head of the prefectural people’s congress, the reports says. But just as women must struggle to survive in the modern workplace, they also are accorded second-class status by ancient feudal practices such as bigamy. Marital violence, and kidnapping of women for prostitution or forced marriage to peasants who cannot afford dowries, are still commonplace.

Among suggested solutions to the plight of women, parliament has called for creating a quota of female employees of state firms. Ms. Chen also called for a programme to highlight the difficulties faced by women. "The key segment of those to be educated should be officials of the male sex," she said.

(Hong Kong Standard, 15.6.97)


According to the highly influential Women's Union of Vietnam, economic reforms to open the market have left many women worse off than they were under the old system. The Confucian heritage of women's subservience has always been a powerful cultural counter to the gender quality principles of the Marxist revolution, and now, says the United Nations Development Program, those values have made a marked comeback during the past decade. Women carry about 60 per cent of the agricultural workload, in addition to working in the household, but earn just 72 percent of the average male wage. In rural areas, where 90 per cent of the country's poor live, women's workloads are increasing as more men migrate to cities in search of employment.

(The Women's Watch, June 1997)

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Asian Women Workers Newsletter Vol. 16 No. 4 October 1997