Monday, May 21, 2007

In China, Some Are More Equal Than Others

The long road to equality for Chinese women
"Women hold up half the sky," said Mao Zedong. And indeed, they now account for 45% of China's workforce and 40% of positions in government. So the Chinese leadership was within its rights last week to boast of the progress women have made under Communist Party rule. What officials don't say, however, is that there is still a long way to go for Chinese women, and the road to equality remains blocked at key points...

Of course, the greatest inequality for Chinese women has been the one-child policy, adopted in 1979 to curb runaway population growth and recently reaffirmed through at least 2010. The policy has revealed that all the Communist Party's egalitarian rhetoric about women didn't make that much difference after all.

The traditional Confucian preference for boys has combined with the modern technology of ultrasound and the commonplace practice of abortion to produce a ratio of 119 boys per 100 girls under age five. The ratio is as high as 130:100 in some regions.

This means that the women who make up 45% of China's labor force are, roughly speaking, about half the women in China. That's pretty close to fulfilling Mao's maxim of holding up half the sky.

And, in yet another irony of Chinese life, the perverse one-child policy that has disproportionately reduced the number of females in the country may ultimately empower them. It's getting harder and harder to find a wife these days.


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