Gender question: Toward an egalitarian society in urban China?

CiMemo #344

By: Julie Remoiville – julie.remoiville [at] gmail.com

Photo Julie Remoiville - CopyThe “International conference on gender equality and institutional social responsibility,” organized by UN Women, takes place October 22-23, 2015 in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province in China, and the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the country. Considering the substantial efforts invested by the Chinese state to improve the status of women in contemporary Chinese society, it is not surprising that this conference is taking place in a major Chinese city. In 1990, China established the National Working Committee on Children and Women to promote gender equality, and in 1998, the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women was held in Beijing. While there are divergences in rank between various indexes, since its inception in 2006, the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report has consistently rated China ahead of neighbours such as Japan and South Korea for gender equality.

However, is China actually a society where gender equality has been achieved? If numerous women have outstanding professional careers, what are the consequences for their family lives?

Especially since the foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, women’s movement out of the domestic and into the public realm has been a major change in the gender system. The social, political and economic transformations that have taken place since the 1980s have also had facilitated the massive entry of women into the labour market.

However, a closer look reveals that women are doubly burdened: they are engaged in both professional life, where they must endlessly demonstrate their expertise in front of continual and widespread gender discrimination, and in family life, where they are often solely responsible for household chores and child rearing. Cultural practices and beliefs surrounding pregnancy and birth in Hangzhou force contemporary women to follow various “traditional” practices during their pregnancies that ostensibly preserve the well being of their unborn children, but often undermine their own health. Furthermore, even if fathers have become more invested in their family lives, the domestic sphere is still widely associated with women. Thus, if China is to become an egalitarian society based on gender equality, a great deal of work still needs to be done to address gender inequalities that still exist in the 21st century.

Julie Remoiville received her PhD in East Asian Studies from the École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE) in Paris, France. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Groupe Sociétés Religions Laïcités GSRL (EPHE/CNRS), also located in Paris, France.

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Slogans on the women’s bodies include messages such as “married-out women are like thrown-out-water,” during the protest of women for equality in Hangzhou, outside of the Zhejiang Provincial Government office in December 2013 (Credit: HangZhou Weekly).

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