Conspicuously absent off Tuesday’s list of members of the Communist Party Central Committee was China’s top graft buster Wang Qishan, also, once again, women.
As the 19th Party Congress came to a close, the names of those selected to be on the elite ruling body were announced. Of those 204 names, only 10 were women. That’s the same number from the previous congress in 2012. It also means that 95% of Central Committee members are men.
This comes after Chinese state media hyped up the increased number of female delegates to the twice-in-a-decade congress — 24.1%, all the way up from 23% five years before — claiming that it reflected the party’s greater commitment towards gender equality.
While Mao may have famously said that women “hold up half the sky,” the situation is much different in the halls of power in China where no woman has ever held a place on the Politburo Standing Committee, the country’s top political body, and only a handful have served on the Politburo, mostly wives of top leaders. The higher up you go, the less well-represented women become.
That fact is unlikely to change when the new Standing Committee members are announced later today as women in China continue to run into a formidable glass ceiling as they try to scale the political ladder. A Brookings article from earlier this year noted that there are currently no women serving as provincial or municipal party secretaries — traditionally an important stepping stone to further political power.
To explain this gender gap at the top of Chinese politics, some point to traditional values and perceptions that continue to linger nearly 70 years after the Communists took power.
“The long-standing perception that women’s place belongs at home and in the kitchen mean they are not meant to be ambitious,” Professor Lynette H. Ong, Professor of Political Science at University of Toronto, told the BBC. “Their societal role is to be caregivers to the husbands, children and grandchildren.”
And others note how when women in China do gain office, it’s usually in fields like education, culture and health, not those fields that can lead to higher promotions.
“Only a few run the economy. Most of us lack of the political influence to become rising stars – unless we benefit from nepotism or trade sex for power,” a Guangzhou-based female civil servant told the South China Morning Post.
So, while China claims to be launching itself into a “new era” with the help of Xi Jinping Thought, many women only see more of the same.
Chinese Communist Party not even pretending to care about gender balance. Xi's "new era" clearly not a new era for women. https://t.co/G5aDwnNLHO
— Emily Rauhala (@emilyrauhala) October 24, 2017
— Philip Wen (@PhilipWen11) October 23, 2017
“Taiwan has a female president. Even Hong Kong has a female chief executive. But I think the Communist party would have to collapse before you actually saw a woman leading China as a country,” Leta Hong Fincher, the author of a forthcoming book called Betraying Big Brother: China’s Feminist Resistance, told the Guardian last week.
[Images via NetEase]