In China, Women Lag Behind Politically

While China was able to send its first woman to space, women have been experiencing a widening gender gap and facing more gender discrimination. CDT previously reported on the lack of women in China’s leadership. With the upcoming 18th Party Congress and change in leadership, the Washington Post reports it is unlikely that the new leadership line-up will include many women:

China has 22 provinces, five autonomous regions and four centrally controlled municipalities, but only one — Anhui province in the east — is run by a female governor, Li Bin, who was appointed in February. And there is only one female Communist provincial chief, Sun Chunlan, the party secretary in Fujian province, on the east coast.

In the past 30 years, the Chinese Communist Party has appointed only four women as provincial governors. And Sun is only the second female Party provincial chief in the 63-year history of Chinese Communist rule.

Since China’s top party ranks, the Politburo and the more important Standing Committee, are most often filled by officials who have served as provincial chiefs and governors, the future for women here does not look bright. The latest statistics from the party’s Organization Department show that, at the minister level or above, 11 percent of officials are female.

China’s women, in their minuscule numbers in the top party jobs, fare better in one respect than ethnic minorities. Han Chinese make up more than 90 percent of the population of 1.3 billion people, and the country’s 55 other minority groups have no chance of getting one of their own anywhere near the Standing Committee.

Although the chances of women being included in the new line-up are slim, one candidate in particular has a better chance at reaching one of the top spots in China’s politics, from AP:

In June, a 33-year-old air force major marked a major feminist milestone by becoming the first Chinese woman to travel in space. With a once-a-decade leadership transition set to kick off Nov. 8, many now are waiting to see if another ambitious Chinese female, State Councilor Liu Yandong, can win one of the nine spots at the apex of Chinese power.

Liu is a smiley 67-year-old with a degree in chemical engineering and a penchant for pearls and red lipstick. Her portfolios include education, sports and cultural affairs. Experts say she is well-connected and state media paints her as a diligent civil servant with a human touch. In May, she donned scrubs and stroked the forehead of a hospitalized teacher who lost her legs pushing two students away from an oncoming bus.

Leadership transitions only happen once a decade in China. This year, Liu is the only female with an outside chance of landing a position at the top, and if she does, she will have made history. But rocketing into space seems simple compared to busting into the boys’ club of Chinese politics.

Former Vice Premier Wu Yi, known as the `Iron Lady’ for her tough negotiating skills and ranked by Forbes as the second most powerful woman in the world in 2007, failed to advance past the Politburo, the group of about 25 from which Standing Committee members are recruited.

Despite the lack of representation of women in the political realm, Gallup reports women in China are participating in larger numbers in the country’s workforce, especially compared to neighboring India:

Chinese women are taking part in their country’s labor force in vastly greater numbers than Indian women are, according to Gallup surveys between 2009 and 2012. Overall, 70% of Chinese women are either employed in some capacity or seeking employment, vs. 25% of Indian women.

Overall, Chinese women are about twice as likely as Indian women to work full time for an employer — 21% vs. 11%, respectively. However, the differences are greater among women at higher education levels — for example, 53% of Chinese women with tertiary education have a “good job,” vs. 17% of highly educated Indian women. Particularly in China, women who attain higher levels of education are less likely to be self-employed and more likely to be employed full time for an employer.

The most recent UNESCO statistics put the literacy rate among Chinese females at 91%, approaching the 97% rate among Chinese men. This rate of literacy far exceeds that in India, where half of women are literate, along with three-quarters of Indian men. Indian women are less likely than Chinese women to receive even a basic education — and those Indian women who do achieve higher levels of education are less likely to apply it in a full-time job.

The Chinese economy is currently outperforming India’s: The World Bank put China’s growth rate at 9.0% in 2011 and India’s at 6.8%. But over the coming decades, demographic trends will pose a serious challenge for China’s high-octane growth. Its aging population and low fertility rate means its workforce will shrink as a share of the total population by as much as 11% over the next 40 years, according to one estimate. In India, by contrast, the proportion of working-age people in the population is not projected to peak until around 2030.

See also Women Power Up? Not Yet, via CDT.


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