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Chinese women hold up half of the sky
(China Daily)
Updated: 2005-08-25 05:57

Editor's note:

The Information Office of China's State Council yesterday issued a white paper titled: Gender Equality and Women's Development in China. This white paper has been prepared to introduce to the rest of the world China's progress in promoting gender equality and women's development over the past decade. The following is the abstract of the document:

China is a developing country with the largest population in the world. Of its total population of 1.3 billion, women account for about half. Therefore, the promotion of gender equality and the overall development of women is not only of great significance for China's development, it also has a special influence on the efforts for the advancement of mankind.

In recent years, the Chinese Government has made fairness and justice, with gender equality included, an important part of efforts to build a harmonious socialist society, and has utilized economic, legal, administrative, public opinion and other measures to ensure that women enjoy equal rights with men in terms of politics, economy, culture, and social and family life, and continuously pushes forward women's development in an all-round way.

Efforts to promote gender equality

To promote gender equality and the development of women, China is making unremitting efforts to improve its legal system to protect the rights and interests of women, formulate and implement programmes regarding women's development, further improve relevant working organs, increase financial input and strengthen social awareness.

The National Working Committee on Children and Women (NWCCW) under the State Council, the co-ordination and consultation organ of the Chinese Government in charge of women and children's work, plays an important role in co-ordinating and promoting relevant government departments to do women and children's work well. It also does work in terms of formulating and organizing the implementation of the outlines for the development of women and children, providing necessary human, financial and material resources to the work on women and children and to the development of women and children's causes, and guiding, encouraging and supervising the work of its subordinates in all provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central government.

The current NWCCW is headed by a vice-premier of the State Council, and is composed of 33 member units (ministries, commissions under the State Council and non-governmental organizations) each having one of its vice-ministerial-level officials as a member of the NWCCW. To date, working organs on children and women have been set up by the people's governments of all provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central government, prefectures (prefecture-level cities and leagues) and counties (county-level cities, districts and banners) across the Chinese mainland, which are under the direction of officials of governments at the corresponding level.

The Chinese Government attaches importance to the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) related to the development of women. The All-China Women's Federation, All-China Federation of Trade Unions, Central Committee of the Communist Youth League, China Disabled Persons' Federation and China Association of Science and Technology have all effectively pressed ahead with their gender equality work in line with their respective guidelines. The All-China Women's Federation (ACWF) is the largest NGO in China dedicated to promoting gender equality and women's development. The ACWF and local women's federations play a significant role in uniting and motivating women to participate in the country's economic construction and social development, encouraging them to take an active part in the democratic management and supervision of State and social affairs, and representing and safeguarding the rights and interests of women as a whole.

The Chinese Government sets great store by co-operation with the United Nations and other international organizations, and has actively strengthened its exchanges and co-operation with other governments and women's organizations around the world. China is serious about implementing international conventions. In May 2000, it submitted to the United Nations The Report on the Implementation Result of the People's Republic of China of the "Beijing Declaration" and the "Platform for Action" Adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995; in March 2005, it submitted The Report on the Implementation of the People's Republic of China of the "Beijing Platform for Action" (1995) and the Document of Results of the 23rd UN General Assembly Special Session (2000).

Women and the economy

The State has made the guarantee of equal employment opportunities between women and men and the sharing of economic resources and results of social development the top priority for the advancement of gender equality and the development of women, and has worked out and adopted a series of policies and measures to ensure that women can equally participate in economic development, enjoy equal access to economic resources and effective services, enhance their self-development ability and improve their social and economic status.

Over the past few years, the Chinese Government has formulated and carried out supportive policies to encourage women to start businesses on their own initiative, and give them preferential treatment when granting employment training subsidies and small-sum guaranteed loans and conducting tax reduction and exemption. In the meantime, governments at all levels have adopted many favourable policies toward women, such as creating public-welfare jobs, opening employment service centres, sponsoring special recruitment activities and vocational training courses, monitoring sex discrimination against women in employment and helping women, especially laid-off women, to find new jobs.

Over the past few years, the tertiary industry has become the main channel for providing jobs to women, and an increasing number of women are entering the computer, communications, finance and insurance and other high- and new-tech industries, thus becoming an important force in these fields. At present, women owners of small and medium-sized enterprises account for about 20 per cent of the national total number of entrepreneurs, and 60 per cent of them have emerged in the past decade. By the end of 2004, women accounted for 43.6 per cent of the total number of professionals and technicians in State-owned enterprises and institutions nationwide, up 6.3 percentage points over the 37.3 per cent of 1995, among whom, the number of senior and intermediate-level women professionals and technicians rose from 20.1 per cent and 33.4 per cent to 30.5 per cent and 42 per cent respectively.

China is basically an agricultural country, and women account for more than 60 per cent of the rural labour force and are a major force in farming activities. The Law of the People's Republic of China on Rural Land Contracting, which came into effect in 2003, states that women and men enjoy equal rights in contracting land in rural areas, and no organization or individual shall deprive women of their right to contract and operate land or infringe upon their right to do so.

To actively promote gender equality in employment and raise women's ability to find employment or start businesses, the Chinese Government has begun to co-operate with the United Nations Development Programme, International Labour Organization and other international organizations, with satisfactory results. At present, it is accelerating, taking into account the national conditions of China, the process for the approval of the UN's Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention in China.

Women and poverty elimination

To alleviate and eliminate poverty is a goal that the Chinese Government is determined to realize. With the implementation of large-scale and effective special poverty-reduction development programmes, the government has succeeded in reducing the poverty-stricken rural population, the majority of whom are women, by 53.9 million - from 80 million in 1994 to 26.1 million in 2004.

In recent years, thanks to the support and initiative of the Chinese Government, women's federations at all levels have launched, in view of local conditions, the "Poverty-Reduction Action for Women" with provision of small-sum credit loans, poverty elimination group by group, labour export, pairing-off assistance and mutual help between the eastern and western parts of the country as the main contents.

Women's ability to be involved in the management of State and social affairs has been constantly strengthened, and their ability in handling political affairs has gradually enhanced. China's Constitution clearly stipulates the basic principle that men and women have equal political rights. The Law on the Protection of Rights and Interests of Women has made further stipulations to ensure that women can participate in decision-making and management.

The people's congress system is a fundamental political system in China, and the State pays great attention to the important role played by women in the people's congresses at all levels. The Election Law of the National People's Congress and Local People's Congresses at All Levels of the People's Republic of China, promulgated in 1995, stipulates that deputies to the National People's Congress (NPC) and local people's congresses at all levels should include appropriate numbers of women, and the proportion of women deputies should be increased step by step. In the past decade, women have displayed great enthusiasm for participating in electing deputies to the people's congresses at all levels and exercising their democratic rights. Some 73.4 per cent of women turned out to elect deputies to local people's congresses. Of all the deputies to the previous National People's Congresses, more than 20 per cent were women. The proportion of women among the deputies to the Tenth National People's Congress is 20.2 per cent; and women members account for 13.2 per cent of all members of the Standing Committee of the NPC, an increase of 0.5 percentage point over the previous national congress. Moreover, three of the vice-chairpersons of the NPC's Standing Committee are women.

The system of multi-party co-operation and political consultation under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) is a basic political system in China. The CPC is the ruling party, while all other political parties are participants in State affairs. They are allies working closely with the CPC. Women account for a certain number of CPC members. In 2004, female membership of the CPC was 12.956 million, accounting for 18.6 per cent of all CPC members, an increase of 3 percentage points over 1995. Women deputies accounted for 18 per cent of all deputies to the 16th CPC National Congress, an increase of 1.2 percentage points over the previous congress. Of the members of the 16th Central Committee of the CPC, 7.6 per cent are women (as either members or alternate members), an increase of 0.3 percentage point over the previous congress. Female membership is relatively high in the eight democratic parties, exceeding 30 per cent in seven of them. The Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) is an important organ of the multi-party co-operation and political consultation system under the leadership of the CPC. At present, four of the vice-chairpersons of the National Committee of the CPPCC are women. Women members and women Standing Committee members of the first conference of the Tenth National Congress of the CPPCC accounted for 16.7 and 11.7 per cent, up 1.2 percentage points and 1.7 percentage points over the first conference of the previous congress.

At present, China has one woman vice-premier and one woman State councillor on the State Council, and 25 women incumbent vice-ministers or ministerial-level directors or heads in the Supreme People's Court, the Supreme People's Procuratorate, and the ministries and commissions under the State Council.

The proportion of women civil servants recruited in 2003 nationwide was 27.8 per cent of the total; and that in the organs of the CPC Central Committee and central government was 37.7 per cent.

Women and education

In China, women enjoy the same rights and opportunities as men to receive education. Such rights and opportunities are clearly defined in China's Education Law, Compulsory Education Law and Vocational Education Law.

The Chinese Government makes great efforts to eliminate gender disparities at the stage of compulsory education, and improve the education environment for girls. In 2004, the enrolment of boys and girls was 98.97 per cent and 98.93 per cent, respectively. The difference in access to education between boys and girls was reduced from 0.7 percentage point in 1995 to 0.04 percentage point.

The State exerts great efforts to ensure that women have the opportunity to receive secondary and higher education. As a result, the proportion of women in all types of schools at all levels has increased considerably. In 2004, the proportion of girl students in junior and senior middle schools reached 47.4 per cent and 45.8 per cent, respectively; the proportion of girl students in secondary vocational schools reached 51.5 per cent; the number of girl students in institutions of higher learning nationwide reached 6,090,000, accounting for 45.7 per cent of all students in such schools and an increase of 10.3 percentage points over 1995. The proportion of female postgraduate and doctoral students was 44.2 per cent and 31.4 per cent, 13.6 percentage points and 15.9 percentage points higher respectively over the figures in 1995.

Women and health

The Chinese Government considers women's health an area of priority in promoting gender equality and the development of women. Over the past decade, the State has promulgated and implemented such statutes as the Law of the People's Republic of China on Health Protection of Mothers and Infants and Law of the People's Republic of China on Population and Family Planning. It has gradually improved the women's healthcare service network. By the end of 2004, there were 2,997 healthcare institutes for women and children throughout China, with 243,000 beds for women.

For years, the healthcare departments at all levels have considered the examination and treatment of gynaecological diseases routine work. Every year, over one third of married women under the age of 65 across China go through examinations for gynaecological diseases.

The government also pays attention to the health of teenagers and elderly women. It has launched educational campaigns in schools and neighbourhood communities on knowledge about sex and the prevention of AIDS, so as to raise female teenagers' awareness of the importance of a healthy sex life and strengthen their self-protection ability.

As the population of migrants moving between rural and urban areas keeps increasing, the State, by following the principle of equal treatment, appropriate guidance, better management and quality services, has made great efforts to provide migrant women with the same family planning preferential policies and technical services as enjoyed by women with permanent residence.

The Outline for the Development of Chinese Women emphasizes that the healthcare of pregnant women and women in childbirth among the migrant population should be included in the healthcare services for such women in the places they migrate to. The relevant government departments at all levels are exploring a special mode of healthcare service for migrant women in the neighbourhood communities.

In recent years, the State has paid great attention to the prevention and treatment of AIDS, set up the State Council Work Committee on the Prevention and Treatment of AIDS, and earmarked extra funds for this purpose. As a result, practical effects have been achieved in the prevention and treatment of AIDS. Faced with the trend of more and more women being infected with HIV/AIDS, the State considers the prevention of the spread of AIDS from mother to baby an important part of the healthcare work for women and children. In order to find an intervention mode and experience suited to China's conditions, a team made up of specialists has been created to do pilot work regarding the prevention of AIDS, stemming the spread of AIDS from mother to baby free of charge, showing special concern for pregnant women tested HIV positive and their babies.

In recent years, the Chinese Government has conducted international co-operation with many organizations, including the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, United Nations Children Fund, United Nations Development Fund for Women, World Bank, World Health Organization, and Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, in the fields of hygiene for women and children, reproductive health, family planning, and the prevention and treatment of AIDS.

In the early 1950s, the Marriage Law of the People's Republic of China, the first law promulgated since the founding of New China in 1949, clearly stipulated women's equal status in marriage and the family. The revised Marriage Law, promulgated in 2001, reiterated the basic principle of equality between men and women, stressed the equal status of husband and wife and their equal rights and responsibilities in marriage and the family, and, in consideration of the situation, added articles forbidding domestic violence and bigamy with the clear aim of protecting women's rights. Today, women have a lot more say in decision-making concerning their own marriage and play a bigger role in family decisions, and their personal and property rights are better protected.

Efforts have also been made to protect girls' and baby girls' legal rights to subsistence and development and cutting down the disparity in number between baby boys and girls. The Law on Population and Family Planning forbids foetus gender identification by means of ultrasonic and other technical methods for non-medical purposes, and forbids termination of pregnancy out of consideration for a foetus' gender for non-medical purposes.

The State pays due attention to protecting elderly women's legitimate rights and interests, and raising their status in marriage and the family. To provide legal and institutional guarantees for the protection of the rights and interests of elderly people of whom women form the majority, the State has formulated a series of laws and policies over the last decade, with the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Rights and Interests of the Aged as the core. The State encourages the development of undertakings and industries aimed at serving elderly people, and gradually achieving the goal of offering socialized services for the aged. It also pays attention to ensuring the physical and mental health of elderly women, and enriching their spiritual and cultural life.

Women and the environment

The Chinese Government has continuously tried to optimize women's living and development environment, to bring their role into full play in protecting and improving the environment, and to enable women to live and develop in a sound environment.

Governments at all levels have actively encouraged women's participation in scientific research, evaluation, planning, designing, supervision and management of the environment. At present, quite a number of women are serving in departments related to environmental protection at various levels, some even taking leading positions, with about 30 per cent of environmental monitoring and law-enforcement officials in the country being female.

Women's rights guaranteed

In the last decade, China has enacted and revised, in succession, the Marriage Law, the Population and Family Planning Law, the Law on Rural Land Contracting, and the Law on Protection of Rights and Interests of Women, and promulgated and implemented over 100 rules and regulations concerning the protection of women's rights and interests, such as the Regulations on Implementing the Law on Mother and Infant Healthcare.

The State has established a national co-ordination group for the protection of women's and children's rights and interests, composed of members from 19 government departments. Some courts have established specialized tribunals to accept and adjudicate civil cases involving the protection of women's rights and interests, and people's jurors from women's federations and other relevant organs are invited by the courts to participate directly in the hearing of such cases.

The State also sets store by increasing the number of female judicial officials and their ratio in the total number.

To ensure that women's legitimate rights and interests are properly protected, the relevant departments of the Chinese Government issued a special notice, stressing that no legal aid institutions, law firms, notarization institutions or grass-roots legal service institutions may decline to handle or postpone without proper reason an accusation, appeal or prosecution that involves infringement on women's rights and interests. Moreover, legal service fees should be reduced or exempted for women in straitened circumstances.


It is obvious to all that great progress has been achieved in the promotion of gender equality and women's development in China over the past decade.

At the same time, the Chinese Government is highly aware that, restricted by the country's limited level of economic and social development, especially in the process of economic restructuring and in establishing and improving a socialist market economic system, China is confronted with new situations and problems in its efforts to promote gender equality and women's development. Chinese women have become increasingly more diversified in their social status, and thus their needs for subsistence, development and protection of their rights and interests also vary.

There is an obvious imbalance in the development of women in different regions, social status and groups; the outmoded conventions and custom of inequality between men and women handed down from China's history and culture have not yet been completely eradicated, and women's rights and interests are still being infringed upon to varying degrees in some areas. There is a long way to go and arduous tasks to tackle to achieve gender equality and promote women's development in China to a satisfactory level.

The Chinese Government will continue its efforts to encourage all social sectors to help promote gender equality and women's development, strengthen its exchanges and co-operation with the United Nations and other international organizations concerned and the governments of various countries, and make active contributions to promoting worldwide equality, development and peace.

(China Daily 08/25/2005 page5)

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