"Women hold up half the sky" - and 4% of the Chinese Politburo


Liu Yandong appears much like other cadres jockeying for position in China's pending leadership transition, bar one very obvious difference: her genderShe is the only female member of the 25-member politburo and would be the first woman to reach its standing committee, the country's top political body. Though she is regarded as a long shot, "the door is not closed", said Cheng Li, an expert on Chinese politics at the Brookings Institution.
Slogans such as "women hold up half the sky" once embodied the Communist party's pledge to raise the status of women. Economic reforms further boosted them. China ranks a respectable 35th on the UN's gender empowerment index. Yet in Chinese politics women remain a glaring absence. The annual session of the National People's Congress shows banks of dark-suited men; only a fifth of the largely rubber-stamp legislature is female, and barely one-sixteenth of the party's central committee. There is one female provincial party secretary and one governor. At the grassroots 2%-3% of village party chiefs and 22% of committee members are female.
Feminists say better representation is crucial to addressing enduring, or even increasing, inequality. Many fear women face a deterioration in their status, citing changes to marital property rights that have disadvantaged women, incomes shrinking in comparison to men's and increasing gender stereotyping. "The mainstream value system portrays women as weak. From kindergarten on, girls are told to be obedient," said Xie Lihua, the founder of the Rural Women NGO. She added: "If women's political status can't be improved, all other talk about women's rights is just empty words."
Women played an important role in shaping modern China; there were high-profile leaders and thinkers, and female soldiers. Yet the two most prominent female leaders gained power through marriage. Song Qingling was the widow of revered revolutionary Sun Yat-sen. Mao Zedong's wife Jiang Qing was blamed for the Cultural Revolution's excesses, though she later insisted she was "Chairman Mao's dog. I bit whomever he wanted me to bite." Many believe the backlash against her damaged women in general.
"The number of women in politics declined from the late 1970s onwards," said Tamara Jacka of the Australian National University, who is studying the effect of female leadership on gender equality in Chinese villages. Under Deng Xiaoping the regime sought legitimacy by distancing itself from its predecessors. "One of the most powerful leaders was Jiang Qing and so part of the discrediting of the Cultural Revolution involved the discrediting of the notion that women should be involved and take leadership positions in the public sphere," Jacka said. As in other countries, women lack confidence to step forward, are disadvantaged in networking, bear more of the household chores and face higher standards and stereotyping, such as the assumption they will interrupt their career to have children... Read more:

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