China's population

Promoting gender equality in mainland China will get the balance right

News that a young engineer had married a female robot called attention to the mainland’s deep gender imbalance. The central government must promote gender equality as a core value to change the traditional preference for boys

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 April, 2017, 11:44pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 April, 2017, 11:44pm

News that a young mainland engineer married a female robot he built because he couldn’t find a human partner went viral. Apparently, even his own mother and close friends attended the marriage ceremony, even though it is not officially recognised. It’s not clear whether the whole episode has been a publicity stunt, as it is hard to imagine any mother approving such a “union”. At present, Ying Ying can only say a few words and has limited mobility. But her engineer husband promises to upgrade her features very soon.

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Despite the comical and futuristic aspects of the story, it is also a little sad in that it calls attention to the deep gender imbalance on the mainland. China, of course, is not the only country that has this problem. India, a democracy which never had an enforced one-child policy, also suffers from the imbalance because of a similar cultural preference for boys and a low regard for the status of females.

Mainland authorities have essentially abandoned the one-child policy in most places in a bid to restore gender balance. But with a ratio of 113.5 men to every 100 women, it’s an uphill battle.

Some critics claim allowing families to have two children may actually make the problem worse.

Under the revised policy, if a boy is born first, many families simply choose not to have another child. This is not just about sexism. In major mainland cities today, it’s expensive to raise a child even for a middle-income family.

The traditional preference for boys is deep-seated and cultural in China; administrative measures are likely to have only a limited impact, if they don’t make matters worse.

Officially, the government has no obvious gender discrimination in its policies. Women can work anywhere the same as men and are entitled to all the same rights. But cultural biases go deep and wide.

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The Communist Party once led by example. After all, the Great Helmsman once declared that women held up half the sky. Economic opening in the past few decades have, paradoxically encouraged the return of old prejudices. The party must do so again. More consideration must be given to women for top positions in government.

Gender equality must be promoted as a core value. Only by such sustained encouragement can cultural perceptions begin to change over time. The central government has never been shy about promoting and enforcing what it considers as proper beliefs and values for its citizens. Gender equality must be at the top of its agenda. It’s not just about doing what’s right, but the only way the country can restore gender balance in the long run.