Women's role continues to grow in China

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail ChinAfrica, October 28, 2020
Adjust font size:
Members of a medical team from Beijing depart Wuhan after completing their mission on April 15, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

Chen Wei felt a sense of pride for her country when she was awarded a national honorary medal – "the People's Hero" – for her courageous role in the country's fight against the COVID-19 epidemic. The female military medical scientist was one of four prominent figures to be honored on September 8 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Chen was among the first medical experts to help out in Hubei, a province in China that was hardest hit by the coronavirus. She has led her team in achieving remarkable progress in COVID-19-related basic research and development of a vaccine and protective medicine.

"We took more risks so that the people can be safer," Chen told Xinhua News Agency.

As the epidemic spread, she was joined by more women risking their lives to help in Wuhan, Hubei. At the height of the battle against COVID-19, more than 40,000 health workers from across the country rushed to Hubei, and two-thirds of them were women.

Their heroic deeds were hailed by Chinese President Xi Jinping on October 1 when addressing via video the UN High-level Meeting on the 25th Anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. He singled out a nurse named Liu Jiayi from Guangdong province who had not yet reached the age of 20. Liu was the youngest member of her team, responsible for assisting her colleagues with their protective suits. In a video interview that touched the hearts of people across the country, she was asked whether she thought she was too young to help others. "The moment I put on the protective suit, I am not a kid anymore," she responded.

"Their courage and hard work have shown the very best of the medical profession. Their devotion and sacrifice have kept the nation intact through difficult times," said Xi, applauding the great contribution made by women medical workers.

Liu is a representative of China's hundreds of millions of women who have played a growing role in social development. With gender equality as a basic policy, China has been taking various measures to empower women. As a result, Chinese women today are playing an even bigger role across all sectors of society.

Major players

According the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), women make up 43.7% of China's employment figure in 2018, 0.2 percentage point higher than the previous year. In particular, women play an important role in the thriving online economy. According to the 2019 white paper on women's development by the State Council Information Office, women have made up 55% of the population doing business online.

On September 30, Viya, China's top livestreaming anchor, was titled, the Bearer of Red Flag March 8, a national honor for women who have made an outstanding contribution to society, for her efforts in helping provinces, including Hubei, hit by the COVID-19 epidemic restore their economy. March 8 refers to the annual date celebrating the International Women's Day.

In 2016, the former singer and fashion shop owner became a livestreaming anchor of Taobao, China's leading e-commerce platform, and achieved over 100 million yuan ($14.9 million) sales in the following four months. In 2018, the successful anchor started working to help with poverty alleviation and her team has helped poverty-stricken areas achieve local produce sales of over 460 million yuan ($68.4 million) by July 2020.

Chinese women's engagement in political roles is also increasing. According to NBS, the current (13th) National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, has 742 female deputies, 24.9% of the total; the current (13th) National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's top political advisory body, has 440 female members, 20.4% of the total. Both numbers represent the highest proportion of female participation since the two organizations were established.

In 2017, of the new civil servants recruited by central government organs and their direct affiliates, women accounted for more than a half, a rate higher than the 40% in local government organs, according to the white paper.

Young women are doing increasingly better academically. In 2018, the number of female postgraduate students was 1.356 million, accounting for 49.6% of all postgraduates, an increase of 1.8 percentage points compared with 2010. The number of female students in undergraduate and junior colleges accounted for over 50%.

As women become more capable, they are also taking more responsibilities in society, as shown by the female health workers in the fight against COVID-19.

Another key sector that has seen the strong engagement of women is China's ongoing fight against poverty. Apart from online anchors like Viya, female government workers, teachers and volunteers, among other occupations, are dedicating themselves to this great cause.

Zhang Guimei, Principal of Huaping Senior High School for Girls in Lijiang, Yunnan province in southwest China, in a class on July 4, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

On October 12, in her congratulatory message for the fifth UNESCO Prize for Girls' and Women's Education, Peng Liyuan, wife of President Xi and also UNESCO special envoy for the advancement of girls' and women's education, mentioned the story of Zhang Guimei, a female teacher who moved to an impoverished mountainous area in southwest China's Yunnan province and lived there for over 40 years to help girls from poor families get a chance to receive better education.

With Zhang's efforts, the first senior high school that offers free education for girls opened in China, which, since its launch in 2008, has helped more than 1,600 girls pursue their higher education goals.

In an interview with China Central Television, Zhang emphasized the importance of education in poverty alleviation. "Education can stop poverty from being passed down to the next generation. It is a way to fundamentally change the fate of people in poor mountainous areas," she said.

Removing prejudice

When the results of this year's college entrance examinations were released on July 23, Zhong Fangrong, a senior middle school graduate in Leiyang, Hunan province in central China, had abundant choices regarding which school and major she would opt for. With 676 out of a possible total 750 points, Zhong ranked fourth among the province's all liberal arts test-takers. Representatives of both Peking University and Tsinghua University, the two most prestigious higher education institutions in China, visited her home, promoting their respective options.

Zhong's final decision to study archeology at Peking University triggered a heated debate on the Internet. Some netizens questioned whether it was reasonable to choose a less lucrative profession rarely practiced by females, especially when considering her economic condition as a "left-behind" child - the name given to Chinese children who are left in rural areas with their grandparents, while their parents migrate to cities in search of work.

Born to a rural family, Zhong had indeed been brought up by her grandparents. To support the family, her parents have to leave them in the village and work in factories in Guangdong province in south China. Like many other rural families, they reunite once a year during the Spring Festival holiday.

Despite those negative comments, Zhong was not deterred from her decision to pursue a career of her choice, although she was aware that she may not earn much money from it. To her joy, her choice was supported by a lot of people. Museums sent gifts and words of encouragement, and Fan Jinshi, her idol who she said had inspired her to study archeology, also sent her a copy of her biography and a letter to encourage her to stick to her dream.

Zhong's success and choice represent not only the life possibilities brought by education to millions of Chinese girls in less advantaged conditions, but also the role of Chinese women in reshaping public perceptions of the female gender.

In his speech at the High-level Meeting on the 25th Anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, Xi called for further efforts to advance the global cause of women's development. "We still have a long way to go and need to work really hard to build a world in which women are free from discrimination, as well as a society of inclusive development," he said.

In the case of China, there are gaps to close regarding gender equality in terms of political engagement, salaries and sharing of domestic labor, among others. Society is also calling for the removal of prejudice on women regarding marriage, child bearing and occupations. Women are playing an essential part in achieving these aims.

In one recent case, the public were outraged when Yang Liping, a renowned Chinese dancer, was mocked on the short video platform Douyin for being childless. A comment on a video she posted called it a major failure for her as a woman, despite the great success of the 62-year-old performer.

The comment was widely criticized by netizens, many of whom were females. In her reply to the comment, Yang called for understanding and respect for whichever lifestyle one chooses to adopt. "I hope we can all live as we want, as I am doing," she said.

Follow China.org.cn on Twitter and Facebook to join the conversation.
ChinaNews App Download
Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Enter the words you see:    
    Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from China.org.cnMobileRSSNewsletter