The 13th National Women’s Congress is China’s top political gathering for women, however it’s only one man who was seen talking. It’s held every five years and has been a gesture of showing the government’s commitment to women. Although a symbolic gesture, the meeting has become more significant with no women being part of the party’s executive policy making body for the first time in two decades.
Xi JinPing, China’s Premier, was photographed sitting center-stage at the opening of the Women’s Congress, a closeup of him is splashed on the front page of the Chinese Communist Party’s newspaper. His speech told women to embrace their traditional roles without even a single courteous mention to the standard statement- “equality between men and women is a fundamental national policy of the Chinese government”. There is a deepening policy shift within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regarding the role and status of women in society.
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Xi JinPing asks women to stay at home and care for the young and old
“We should actively foster a new type of marriage and childbearing culture”, said Xi JinPing in his speech. He emphasized that it is the party official’s responsibility to instill in the young citizens the role of “love and marriage, fertility and family.” Mr. Xi made no mention of women at work as done in the past Women’s Congress meetings but instead emphasized on his goal for the women- to get married and have babies.
This is in response to the country’s demographic crisis as its population has plummeted since the 1960s. The party desperately needs women to have babies to reverse what experts call an “irreversible trend”. Authorities have tried many initiatives like cash handouts, and tax benefits to encourage more births. This is seen as a result of feminism. Sending women home and out of work comes at a time of a slowing economy, China’s biggest economic challenge in four decades, with a severely underdeveloped social welfare system unable to support its rapidly aging population.
Mr. Xi said in his speech “China’s path to modernization” is women being called back home to rear the young and care for the old. He also encouraged women leaders to “tell good stories about family traditions and guide women to play their unique role in carrying forward the traditional virtues of the Chinese nation.”
The party has failed to address women’s issue
Women in China have raised many concerns about sexual harassment, gender violence, and discrimination, discussions of which have been silenced. Many outspoken advocates and feminists have been jailed. In 2018, when the #MeToo movement took a moment in China, it was soon squashed.
Senior officials used language suggesting their hardlined agenda to revert to old traditional gender norms. Officials hope that praising China’s past virtues will inspire women to do the most meaningful work that is at home focusing on family. This will help demographics.
Young and educated women in China relish their financial independence and young citizens in general are ambivalent about marrying due to the expected economic slumps and soaring unemployment rates. China is one of the most expensive countries to raise a child. It is unlikely the party’s change in policy will result in a change in the country’s population decline unless they resort to punitive measures to disadvantage women who choose to not have children.
This severe imposing on women’s rights is not unprecedented. The party used forced sterilizations, penalties, and abortions as part of the “one-child” policy, which was implemented for decades before being lifted in 2015.
They can impose their will on women again.