women (the condition of)


women (the condition of)
Socially, the PRC government has promulgated a series of statutes to promote women’s status and gender equality. The Marriage Law of 1950 backed by Mao prohibited arranged marriages, concubinage, foot-binding and child marriages. The Marriage Law of 1981, which stipulated that a breakdown in a relationship between husbands and wives was sufficient grounds for a divorce, made the procedures easier. The amendments to the second Marriage Law in 2001 reiterates that bigamy (chonghun, commonly called bao ernai) is illegal and those who violate it will be punished. The same amendments define family violence as a serious offence or crime that should be stopped.
Politically, there were 382 women delegates to the Sixteenth National Congress of the Party in November 2002, accounting for 18.1 per cent of the total 2,118 delegates. There were over 650 women deputies to the fifth session of the Ninth National People’s Congress in March 2002, accounting for more than 22 per cent of the total. The percentage is on a par with or even surpasses that of many developed countries. By the late 1990s, the number of female cadres in government ministries and departments, state-owned enterprises and institutions had reached nearly 14 million or about 35 per cent of the total number of cadres across China.
Economically, female workers account for 38.8 per cent of urban employees and 65.6 per cent of rural labourers, though two-thirds of the laid-off workers in urban areas are women. ‘Women can hold up half of the sky’, a political slogan of Mao times to emphasize women’s participation in all aspects of life, is far from being true. In fact, this aspiration is seldom mentioned during the reform era. While women now have greater opportunities for education, their ‘sky’ seems smaller and less bright. Some officials proposed that ‘a generation of women be sacrificed to speed up the economic development’. There have been debates among economists as to whether women should ‘return home’. One argument is that countries with lower rates of female employment would have higher rates of economic growth, thus it would be better off if women stayed at home. In practice, many women have been forced to take prolonged ‘vacations’ or maternity leave with little pay or have been pressured into early retirement. Officials in some localities practise ‘periodical employment for women’ to formally extend maternity leave to several years to relieve unemployment. The government admits that more girls drop out of school; that more women workers are laid off; and that almost all high-profile corruption committed by top state leaders is related to women as mistresses and accomplices. For some ordinary cadres, their attitude is reflected in a shunkouliu (doggerel verse):
Zhao qingren tai lei,
Zhao xiaojie tai gui,
Zhao xiagang nügong zui shihui.
To search for a mistress is too tiring;
To search for a ‘Miss [Three Accompanies]’ is too costly;
To search for a laid-off woman is most practical.
As for those laid-off women, they have their own response:
Xiagang nügong bu luolei,
Tingxiong zoujin yezonghui,
Shei shuo women wu diwei,
Zuotian hai pei shuji shui?
Laid-off women workers don’t drop tears.
Throwing out our chests, we enter nightclubs proudly.
Who said that we don’t have social status?
Just yesterday I accompanied the Party Secretary sleeping.
HELEN XIAOYAN WU

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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