Image credit: @pierlarski.
A New York Times editorial argues that China’s rapid economic growth has decreased the employment rate of urban women. It comments that the growth in numbers of women leaving work is also compounded by the ‘sheng nü‘ stereotype which has been intentionally perpetuated by central government since 2007.
The op-ed, by Leta Hong Fincher (previously), begins by sketching out the percentage of the female workforce in China against that of other countries. Hong Fincher illustrates the gap between the female workforce in the countryside and in the city, before moving on to argue that urbanisation will cause a significant decline in the numbers of employed female workers in the city.
China’s urban employment rate for working-age women fell to a new low of 60.8 percent in 2010, down from 77.4 percent 20 years earlier, according to census figures. The 2010 rate was 20.3 percentage points lower than that of men.
China’s urbanization rate is expected to rise to 53.37 percent this year, and Chinese state media say that 60 percent of China’s population of nearly 1.4 billion will likely be urban by 2020. Yet the presumed economic benefits of urbanization cannot be realized if the talents of half the country’s population — women — are squandered in the process.
All well and good that the author makes this distinction, but one significant piece that is missing from this puzzle is how and why exactly women are being pushed out of the job market by urbanisation.
Hong Fincher argues that there are some similarities between the way women were whittled out of the workforce during the cultural revolution and the way women now are dropping out of their jobs wilfully in order to increase their chances of finding a partner and thus to avoid the state perpetuated ‘sheng nü’ bullshit.
To make matters worse, since 2007 the central government has conducted a propaganda media campaign on “leftover” women (sheng nü), stigmatizing urban, educated women over the age of 27 who are still single. The barrage of insults has intensified pressure on urban, educated women to abandon their efforts to pursue higher education and to focus instead on getting married before they become “too old” to find a husband.
Hong Fincher provides some suggestions on what the government can do to stem the tide of women deserting the workforce (basically reverse its previous patriarchal policies):
End the state media campaign against “leftover” women. Stop imposing gender-based quotas that favor the admission of men over women in many university programs. Enforce laws against gender discrimination in hiring and compensation. Introduce and enforce a law against sexual harassment in the workplace. Introduce and enforce a law to punish perpetrators of domestic violence. Reverse the erosion of government subsidized childcare, which forces many mothers out of paid work. Reverse the 2011 Supreme Court amendment to the Marriage Law, which dealt a severe blow to the property rights of married women. Appoint more women to political office.