Liu Yandong

Women in China still not equal to men

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 March, 2013, 2:31am


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Women hold up half the sky, said the Great Helmsman. In the mainland corporate world, that may have become true.

If a new survey by an international accounting group is correct, half (51 per cent) of senior management jobs in mainland companies are now held by women. This places the mainland ahead of Hong Kong, other Asian economies and such Western countries as the United States and Britain, according to the report by Grant Thornton International, which surveyed chief executives and chairmen of 6,627 companies in all industry sectors around the world.

Still, the report needs to be put in context. The International Women's Day held yesterday is a good time to reflect on such issues. The vast majority of state-owned enterprises are still run by men. The powerful Politburo Standing Committee is comprised entirely of greying men. Of the 25 members of the new Politburo, only two are women - Liu Yandong and Sun Chunlan. Sun was formerly the party secretary of Fujian, making her only the second woman in the party's history to become a provincial chief. And in the new cabinet line-up, there will again be only a token presence of women, such as Liu, who is expected to be appointed a vice-premier, and a new health minister.

Meanwhile, the reality of gender inequality is still stark in Chinese society. Overt and covert discrimination, employment barriers and sometimes outright violations such as domestic violence are very real obstacles to achieving full equality.

Nevertheless, the latest report shows the country that gave birth to Confucianism - regarded by feminists as one of the most repressive ideologies against women - has made great strides in promoting them. One explanation is that the long-standing one-child policy has created small families and less parenting pressure on mothers with careers.

The latest results are encouraging, but there should be no illusions; genuine equality remains an elusive goal in China.