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More Sexual Equality in Procreation
For thousands of years, Chinese women were full-time baby-bearers and household workers while their husbands, rich or poor, just sat back when at home and enjoyed the growing family.

Such gender prejudice, which developed in feudal China and stressed the absolute authority of the male, has been challenged fiercely over the past three decades, thanks to the country's family planning policy.

State Family Planning Commission statistics reveal the rate of male sterilization in China has been above 7 percent for 10 years, much higher than the world's average of 5 percent. The rate of condom use rose from 1.8 percent in 1992 to 5.1 percent in 2001.

Over the same period, the incidence of female sterilization in China fell from 41.66 percent to 38.1 percent and women's use of oral contraceptives dropped from 3.75 percent to 2.1 percent.

"It's quite noticeable that more Chinese men are taking part in contraception," said Liu Yunrong, a scientist with the National Research Institute of the State Family Planning Commission.

Liu attributed the shrinking gender prejudice regarding reproduction to the principle of sexual equality modern China has upheld since its foundation in 1949 and the country's technical breakthroughs in birth-control surgery.

There are usually six birth-control methods from which people of child-bearing age can choose: Tying the fallopian tubes, vasectomy, intrauterine devices, oral contraceptives, condoms and other contraceptives.

Of those, the no-scalpel vasectomy technique invented by Chinese doctor Li Shunqiang in the 1980s has become widely accepted in the United States, Thailand and Mexico for its simplicity, efficiency and few side effects. World Health Organization interim figures show that nearly half of the world's male sterilization operations have been done in China.

However, technical progress plays only a tiny role in fully realizing the principle of sexual equality in procreation. The real barrier remains the attitude that women are the only ones responsible for family planning.

"It's a global phenomenon that male contraceptive methods are used less than those for women," Liu said, adding that the average worldwide rates for condom use and vasectomies have remained around 5 percent for years.

To combat such deep-rooted prejudice, the late Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai made a speech in 1963, encouraging men to shoulder birth-control responsibilities and urging the Chinese people to make male participation an established practice.

Currently in China, male participation is not only confined to birth control but has spread to improvements in women's reproductive health.

(Xinhua News Agency December 11, 2002)

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