Xi’s appeal for ‘more children’ signals patriarchy and gender discrimination growing in China

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Chinese President Xi Jinping’s appeal to women to stay home and bear children is a clear indication that patriarchal oppression and gender discrimination continue to exist in the world’s second superpower. China’s stubborn traditional gender power structure has always received implicit support from the communist party regime. Though some believe women discrimination has become more evident during Xi’s tenure.

Amid the worsening demographic crisis, Xi has come up with the solution that women must get married and have babies.  “We should actively foster a new type of marriage and childbearing culture,” Xi told the National Women's Congress which was attended by mostly men attendees.[1]   

The phrase 'gender equality' failed to get a single mention during the address to the delegates. It gave a clear message that gender equality was out as the Xi-ruled government moved toward embracing traditional gender norms as a core Party political plank, said Carl Minzner, senior fellow for China studies at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).[2]

It is also being seen as a withdrawal of the ruling China Communist Party (CCP) from the official view of the equality of women, which came into existence following the feminist movement of the 1990s. Equality between men and women became a basic State policy but gender-based inequalities remained in China, according to a report by the Asian Development Bank. "The Revolutionary rhetoric was gender neutral. Although legislative equality was achieved, inequity persisted,” it read.[3]

The dominant patriarchal culture imposes “feminine duties” on women, which seek marriages of women and children-making at the "appropriate" young age, said Chinese feminist activist Lü Pin. “It should be noted that culture can be very coercive especially when the government endorses it. China’s current top leader has repeatedly and publicly asked women to follow “family virtues” to maintain social stability,” she said.[4]

Notably, women have continued to lose their significance, especially, in national politics since Xi's arrival about a decade ago. There has not been a single woman in the current China's Politbureau-- top decision-making institution, which has happened for the first time in the past 25 years.[5] Even the 205 Central Committee has just 11 female members.[6]All this has happened even after Chinese leaders kept talking about gender equality and protecting women's interests.   

Patriarchal norms contributed to Chinese women’s underrepresentation in political leadership, said Minglu Chen, a senior lecturer in Chinese politics at the University of Sydney.[7] “It does certainly send a message that the Chinese Communist Party does not have an interest in advancing women’s political status. The Chinese Communist Party really is still a patriarchal institution,” she said. “Women have always been viewed as an instrument of the state in one way or another.” [8][9]

China’s position in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report fell by 33 places in one decade to 102 in 2022.[10] There are intentional efforts by the Xi government to push women back into traditional roles, said Olivia Cheung of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. “Fundamentally, Xi Jinping sees women like everyone else in China… mainly as risks to be controlled and resources to be harnessed for achieving the China dream.”[11]   

As China struggles hard to meet the challenges of a fast-ageing population and declining birth rate, there are fears that the Xi government may resort to extreme steps to ensure more childbirths, said Mary Gallagher, professor of democracy, democratization and human rights at the University of Michigan. “I fear that in the short term, China will follow other countries and restrict women’s access to abortion and contraception as a way to force women to have more children,” she said.[12]

While Xi has attributed women having more children to “China’s path to modernization”, many find it a worrying regression. “Women in China have been alarmed by the trend and have been fighting back over the years,” said Yaqiu Wang, the research director for Hong Kong, China and Taiwan at Washington-based Freedom House. “Many women in China are empowered and united in their fight against the twin repressions in China: the authoritarian government and the patriarchal society,” Wang said.

END.


[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/02/world/asia/china-communist-party-xi-women.html

[2] https://www.cfr.org/blog/beijings-message-national-womens-congress-gender-equality-out-family-and-childbirth-are

[3] https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/institutional-document/32565/women-peoples-republic-china.pdf

[4] https://disruptiveasia.asiasociety.org/gender-inequality-and-the-ultimate-resistance-of-women-in-china

[5] https://www.reuters.com/world/china/chinas-new-elite-communist-party-leadership-2022-10-23/

[6] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-10-22/women-fill-8-8-of-china-s-top-body-as-xi-s-patriarchy-rolls-on?leadSource=uverify%20wall

[7] https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/where-are-the-women-in-chinese-politics/

[8] https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/02/world/asia/china-communist-party-xi-women.html

[9] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/23/world/asia/women-china-party-congress.html

[10] https://www.wsj.com/articles/under-xi-jinping-women-in-china-have-given-up-gains-11667995201

[11]https://www.economist.com/china/2023/11/09/china-wants-women-to-stay-home-and-bear-children

[12] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/oct/22/where-are-the-women-at-the-top-of-chinese-politics

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