Chapter III Equal
Rights and Important Role
Improvement of the economic status of women constitutes the most important foundation for achieving sexual equality. The Chinese government has made fruitful efforts to upgrade and enhance the economic status of women. Under new conditions, Chinese women have become a great force in the country's social development, making major contributions to the socialist economic construction.
Chinese women enjoy equal rights with men in employment. Since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, the population of employed women has risen constantly. In China, employed females now account for some 44 percent of the total number of employees, higher than the world rate of 34.5 percent. In 1992, employed females made up 72.33 percent of all women over 15, and in the countryside, women laborers made up half the rural labor force. The number of urban working women increased from 600,000 in 1949 to 56 million, while their share of the country's total working population went up from 7.5 percent to 38 percent. Woment's areas of employment cover a wide range. Among 12 branches of the national economy, nine employ over 1 million women. They include industry, agriculture, building, transport and communications, commerce, public health, education, Party and government organs and social organizations. There has been a remarkable upgrading of the kinds of jobs they are holding. In 1992, the number of women in scientific research and comprehensive technological services, Party and government organs and social organizations, and financial and insurance establishments accounted for 34.4 percent, 21.6 percent and 37.3 percent respectively of all employed in these fields. Despite the great progress made in the employment of Chinese women, some new problems have cropped up in recent years. For instance, women are experiencing difficulty finding jobs, chiefly because some units do not want to accept females. The Chinese government is now taking active measures to tackle these problems.
The principle of equal pay for equal work for men and women is basically in place. In China, workers in the same industries, doing similar kinds of work and having the same technical skills, receive the same pay regardless of sex. However, due to current differences in cultural and professional competence as well as occupational composition, some real income gaps still exist between men and women. According to a survey conducted in 1990, the average monthly incomes for male and female workers in urban areas were 193.15 yuan and 149.60 yuan respectively, with women receiving only 77.4 percent of the pay given to men. In rural areas, the average annual incomes for men and women were 1,518 yuan and 1,235 yuan respectively, with women getting 81.4 percent of the earnings of men. However, 1.2 percent of all rural women earned an average annual income of over 10,000 yuan, and the percentage was the same for men. This indicates that, among those who have been the first to prosper in the countryside, the income gap between men and women has become insignificant.
The Chinese government provides comprehensive protective measures for employed women. According to a survey, 85.3 percent of child-bearing female workers and staff members in urban areas enjoy a three-month paid maternity leave, while some units have extended the leave to six months. Female workers during their pregnant and lactation period have their work load and work time reduced. Most state-owned enterprises where women predominate have established gynecological clinics, rest rooms for pregnant women, breastfeeding rooms, nurseries and kindergartens.
As the economic status of Chinese women improves, they are playing an increasingly significant role in the economic sphere.
The rural economic restructuring, conducted since the end of the 1970s, unleashed the immense labor potential of women. Women have become an important and indispensable force in invigorating and promoting the rural economy. Females account for more than half of all workers in agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry, fisheries and water conservancy. In major cotton-producing areas, the management of cotton fields is mostly undertaken by women. Of the 14 million self-employed rural individuals engaged in commerce and service trades, women account for about one-third. In areas where the commodity economy is relatively developed, rural women engaged in business account for half of farmers who have gone into trade. About 50-60 percent of the total rural output value is generated by women.
Rural women in China are an important driving force for the development of township enterprises. At present, rural China boasts more than 100 million workers in township businesses, and 40 million of them are females. The ratio is even greater for women working in the food, clothing, knitwear and other woven products, toy and electronics industries, as well as traditional handicrafts and service trades. They create about 65 percent of the output value. Township enterprises producing textiles, silk, tea, knitwear and other woven products, embroidery and toys, where women make up the bulk of the employees, are the ones which earn the most foreign exchange for the country. Quite a few women become leaders at different levels in township enterprises. For instance, there are 2,000-3,000 women directors and managers in such businesses in each of the provinces of Jiangsu, Guangdong, Anhui, Fujian and Henan. In addition, tens of thousands of women serve as the technical backbone in production at workshop and shift level.
The great role played by Chinese women in rural economic construction has won commendation from some international organizations. The rural area of Longkou City, Shandong Province, has been selected by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as an international monitoring point for studying the problem of rural women. There, rural women not only shoulder 40 to 60 percent of the workload in the fields but also 74 percent of production tasks of township textile, clothing and embroidery enterprises. The embroidery articles they make are exported and can earn for the country US$2.5 million annually. In recent years, 100-odd experts from more than 20 countries have made study tours of the area. They have concurred that rural women in Longkou are playing as important a role as their male counterparts.
In the cities, women have made important contributions to urban economic reform and development. In the 1982-90 period, the growth rate in the number of females employed in the following sectors, namely finance, culture and education, radio and television, public health, sport and recreation, social welfare, commercial concerns, catering, supply and storage, and government and social institutions, exceeded that of males by 21 to 78 percentage points. In 1993, females accounted for 36.8 percent of those with professional and technical titles in enterprises and institutions throughout the country. Women have taken an active part in management and offered numerous proposals and suggestions for the development of their enterprises. According to one survey, women workers and staff in Shaanxi, Jiangsu and eight other provinces alone raised 3.87 million rationalization proposals in the last three years, generating 2.1 billion yuan in economic returns.
Many women factory directors and enterprise managers have come to the fore in the wave of economic reforms and the drive to open to the outside world. They have actively participated in competition and courageously accepted challenges, playing a vital role in ensuring the survival and development of their respective enterprises. In 1992, 97 females in the 28 pilot enterprises in Liaoning Province, picked to try out reforms, rose from rank and file to enterprise managers and leaders in the course of fierce competition. In 1988 and 1992, a total of 107 women factory directors and managers were cited as outstanding entrepreneurs.
In the 40-odd years since the founding of the People's Republic, Chinese women with a sense of self-respect, self-confidence, self-reliance and self-strengthening, have continued to enhance their own capabilities. Their historic accomplishments and significant role in the country's economic construction have won widespread commendation. From 1949 to 1988, a total of 24,858,000 women were awarded the title of advanced worker. In the 1978-92 period, 572 outstanding females were cited as national model workers, and 20,152 others were given the title of "March 8 (International Women's Day) Red-Banner Pacesetters". In 1988-93, 936 females were granted national "May 1" labor medals.
-- Women enjoy equal rights with men relating to their persons. Women enjoy the right to life and health, freedom of the person, the right of portrait, reputation and other rights relating the person; and they enjoy the right of kinship, guardianship, fame and status as a producer. The law prohibits abandonment and drowning of female babies and other forms of infanticide and bans discrimination against and maltreatment of women who give birth to female babies and women who are sterile. It forbids tormenting women with superstitious and violent means and bans maltreatment or abandonment of aged women. It forbids the abduction and kidnapping of women as well as the sale and purchase of such women. It bans actions to organize, force, seduce, shelter or introduce women to engage in prostitution.
-- Women enjoy equal rights with men in marriage and the family. The law states that women enjoy equal freedom in marriage and divorce, and the relations between husband and wife are equal. Women can use their own surnames and given names and participate in production and social activities. Women are subject to special protection with regard to divorce.
While clearly delineating the various concrete rights and interests of women, China's legislation amplifies the responsibilities of state organs in protecting women and clarifies the special status and role of the women's federations and other women's organizations in lawsuits, thus establishing a comprehensive legal mechanism for protecting women. Among the 54 articles of the Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Women, 75 percent list in detail the consequences and legal responsibilities for infringements, thus providing an operational legal basis for enforcement of the law.
At present, China is still at the primary stage of socialism and remains comparatively underdeveloped in economic and cultural development. Therefore, certain provisions on the legal rights of women and guarantee mechanisms need to be further improved. Along with the in-depth development of China's modernization drive, the country's legal system on the protection of women's rights and interests will be perfected.