The official UN theme for this year's International Women's Day is "equality for women is progress for all", but even China's most powerful women say they still have not shattered the glass ceiling.
Traditional values are hindering women's development in China as lawmakers and government advisers converge in Beijing and call for legislation on sex education, domestic violence and more.
"I think there need to be more opportunities for women, especially in the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), of which women only make up about 20 per cent," CPPCC delegate Du Jie said.
"In some regions, females contribute much more than men. For example in Hainan , men sit around drinking tea and playing mahjong while women do all the heavy farm work, which is unfair."
Sexual equality was essential in education, said Gao Wei , the head of Peking University Third Hospital and a fellow CPPCC delegate. "Female medical school graduates have a tough time finding jobs, yet males have no problem," Gao said.
At the last National Women's Congress in October, President Xi Jinping stressed the need for equality and the importance of women in Chinese society. In the latest "Annual Report on Chinese Women's State of Life" released last March, 42 per cent of women who responded to a government survey conducted in major cities saw their incomes rise in 2012, and only 22 per cent were satisfied with them.
"Women are retiring too soon, some at 45. Isn't it a waste to quit so early after all those years of work experience?" asked Hai Liman , a CPPCC delegate and a senior official of the Xinjiang Red Cross. "We should promote female cadres, as all the speeches were dominated by men."
According to the report, only 40 per cent of married urban women said their husbands helped with housework, and women on average earned 22 per cent less than men. There were still countless cases of domestic violence against women.
In recent days, Li Yang, the founder of language school Crazy English who admitted beating his then-wife two years ago, said he was a "spokesman for domestic violence".
"What's wrong with beating her once every eight years?" he asked. "One day, the party and the country will vindicate me."
His former wife Kim Lee said in a phone interview on Friday that Li "certainly beat me more than once, and there's nothing patriotic about kicking a pregnant woman".
"Family values in China may be different, but in no place should it be all right to hit a woman," she added.
Du, the CPPCC delegate, called domestic violence an uncivilised act that "should absolutely be stopped".
"Domestic violence should be punished through the rule of law," she said. "But this is a two-way street, as there are women who beat men."
Confucianism, which teaches that a woman should place obedience to men in her family before all other virtues, has permeated society since it became the state doctrine of the Han dynasty (206BC-AD220). Even for many modern Chinese, such traditional values run deep.
"I am an artist and a mother. I don't want my son to find a strong wife, because it means both parties will live exhausting lives," said Cheng Xiaoyun , a CPPCC delegate and ballad singer. "That is unless the woman knows how to be a good wife, and pretends to be weaker at home to show him respect."