Even if the chinese revolution has improved women’s position within society, it definitely failed in setting gender equality. The great social transition did not break out the chinese alleged male sexism which is still very rooted into this culture.
The Communist Party performed better in the past. Almost the first legislation enacted in 1950 was the Marriage Law under which women were given many new rights, including the right to divorce and the right to own property. Though collectivisation made the latter largely irrelevant, women played an active role in Mao’s China.
But the country seems to experience a trend reversal when it comes about women current status. The Communist Party had concluded lately that young Chinese women are becoming too picky and are over-focused on attaining the “three highs”: high education, professional status and income.
The tragedy is they don’t realise that as women age they are worth less and less, so by the time they get their MA or PhD, they are already old, like yellowed pearls.
Data show that during the last thirty years the gap between men and women just widened. Incomes are still favourable for men, and according to the latest surveys, those women working in big cities earn just 67,3% of men’s salary. In the countryside, the average falls to 56%. Graduated girls have huge difficulties in finding a job, especially since vacancies are not assigned by governments anymore. At the workplace, maoist equality was soon replaced by a shameless sexism. It is easy to find job advertisements explicitly excluding women without any apparent reason, or just discriminating them by stating “just good looking women”.
Women who work, are often waiting longer until marriage, although their ability to marry ultimately depends on the approval of their work units. A couple must have approval from these units before they can marry, since many people in China receive housing and health care benefits from them.
Chinese society finds discrimination against women quite normal. It is normal to assign a job depending on candidate’s gender. Some private companies avoid hiring women in childbearing age, and usually dismiss them as soon as they get pregnant.
But things are slowly changing. Facing gender inequalities, Chinese women started to fight. Before the IV World Women Conference that took place in Beijing in 1995, in China there were no independent NGOs. After that big event, many different NGOs started to flourish everywhere, leaded by self-organised women ready to give legal assistance and help to prostitutes and victims of domestic abuse.
“During the last couple of years I noticed an encouraging rise of female activism” says Lijia Zhang, a chinese writer. According to different sources, something is really happening: in 2012 about ten women gathered in Guangzhou and lined up in front of a bathroom. The aim was to denounce the lack of public services for women. In 2013, ten students dressed up with huge papered-trousers protested in front of Wuhan government headquarters against some invasive gynaecological examination that candidates for a job at state institutes must go through. Some months before, twenty girls shaved their heads to highlight discrimination at university’s admission tests (some fix admission scores at an extremely high rate for women students).
These little initiatives can seriously make the difference. Indeed, media started to cover child abuses, Guangzhou authorities promised to build toilets for women and this august a law was approved against domestic abuse.
“Activism” is a very inconvenient word to use in China, as all other words describing some activity that is not controlled by the central government. Last March, eight feminists were jailed without any formal prosecution, but this certainly won’t stop others from take a step forward. Chinese women seem to understand that nobody is going to serve their rights on a silver plate: in order to hold them, they must fight.