Book Reveals Chinese Womens Roles

By: Sunny

"Women hold up half of the sky" - it is a Chairman Mao saying that recently released figures seem to reaffirm, shedding light on the gender issues facing the country.

Chinese women take up 45.4 percent of the country's workforce, the book Facts and Figures on Women and Men in China published by the National Bureau of Statistics bureau showed.

And about 64 percent of 347 million working women are in the agricultural industry, which is about 10 percent higher than that of men in the sector.

At the same time, the number of women involved in the secondary and service industries are 6.8 percent and 3.3 percent lower, respectively, than the number of men, the figures showed.

The latest figures of women's part in the workforce come amid ongoing discussion by members of the National Committee of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, on whether women civil servants should retire at 55 - five years earlier than their male counterparts - and face losing out in benefits, as highlighted by Zhang Yongying, an expert under the Women's Studies Institute of China.

"More women civil servants have doctorates or masters degrees. This means they spend a longer time on education. That in turn means a shorter working life," she said.

On the other hand, even those women who start work at the same age as their male counterparts get less pension, because they have to retire at a younger age", she added.

"Women without higher education and technical skills working in factories might prefer to retire as early as 55 years old, as they are afraid of being laid off and losing their pension at this age," Zhang said.

Statistics from the bureau's book show that female workers in the country between 40-50 years old are in this group, in danger of losing their jobs.

The numbers are only part of the book, bureau officials reiterated.

"It does not only target women's issues, but also collects comprehensive data of both genders in relation to social integrity," said the book's editor, Wang Kejun, who is the director of the bureau's social, science and technology statistics department.

"Gender equality is a human rights issue that is necessary for achieving sustainable and people-centered development."

"The book summarizes all related data, and provides an overview of China's development of gender research," Wang said.

The bureau had published three such books dealing with similar issues and data in 1999, 2004 and last year.

The data collection was carried out by the statistics bureau, in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund, Women's Studies Institute of China, and the National Working Committee on Children and Women under the State Council.

The projects were initiated following the Beijing Platform for Action, which was put forth on the fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995.

"The empowerment of women and gender equality are prerequisites for achieving political, social, economic, cultural and environmental security among all peoples," Wang said.

The book also touches on other social issues, ranging from family to broader aspects of social life.

Men in the community

Chinese men in urban areas showed increasing involvement in community management at the grassroots level, the bureau's latest publication showed.

"Though it indicates a corresponding decrease of women's involvement in the area, I believe it is a reasonable trend towards gender equality in social management in rural areas," said Zhang.
Neighborhood committees, with the help of local government, used to be responsible for residents in areas such as family planning, security and sanitation.

In the 1970s and 1980s, employees of these committees did not need be to highly educated as most of them were the elderly. Few young or middle-aged residents were involved.

Now, the workers of such committees are required to hold better educational qualifications and have a more sound understanding of government policies that affect their communities, officials said.

Staffers of the neighborhood committees are also reportedly being brought under national civil servant quotas, a move that is expected to attract more young and middle-aged workers.

The proportion of female staff in villagers' committees, however, is still much lower than those in urban areas, but has been steadily increasing in recent years, the bureau's publication reported.

Many provinces have also made steps to promote rural women's awareness of social management, since the Revision of Women Rights Guarantees Law was launched in 2005, Zhang said.

"For example, every village has to make sure there is at least one female member in their committees in Hunan and Hubei provinces," Zhang said.

"Men are still the main economic pillar in rural families, so their support is very important for women.

"More rural women being involved in social management at the grassroots level indicates men's increasing awareness of democracy," Zhang said.

Share of contraception

Statistics from the Facts and Figures on Women and Men in China also showed that men shared a small responsibility in preventing pregnancy.

Chinese men should be encouraged to use condoms, which means not only taking more responsibility for preventing pregnancies, but also helping to prevent sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS, said Jiang Xiuhua from the Women's Studies Institute of China.

She said that the government had launched various programs to encourage men to use condoms in some regions, and had seen a slight increase in men who choose to use the contraceptive.

For example, only 4 percent of men had reportedly chosen to use condoms in Deqing county, Zhejiang province, in the past. The proportion of such men has increased to 20 percent, after a joint campaign by the local government and the United Nations Population Fund to promote the practice was launched in 2004.

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