Working women in China are facing discrimination in the workplace at the hands of their employers.
Even though it is illegal, many businesses in China require the women they hire to sign a “special agreement” where they promise not to get pregnant for at least two years. If women break these contracts, these businesses can fire them without compensation.
Even though many Chinese women are highly educated and qualified for a variety of positions, China’s traditional gender roles, backed by leader Xi Jinping, are slowly taking away women’s rights.
What is most ironic about these illegal agreements is the fact that China has reversed its one-child policy in an attempt to increase the population. However, instead of allowing women to work to support a larger family, they are pushing them back into the home.
Women in China had more rights under previous rulers. Now, government officials look the other way when employers blatantly hire and promote men over women to avoid paying for the costs of maternity leave. Many ads even specify “men wanted” or “men only.” Employers also openly penalize women if they choose to have children and pay them less.
When women quit their jobs and stay home to take care of the family, they have less rights in the case of a divorce. There is a popular belief that women will only marry men if they own property, causing families to save money to buy their sons’ apartments. When women marry these men, their names are not put on the deed. Without their names on it, in case of a divorce, women have no legal claim to the property. For some women who have no family or money, a divorce can be devastating, and they can end up living on the street. Many women stay in abusive relationships to avoid this fate.
The previous leader of China, Mao, told women that they held up “half the sky.” He also outlawed arranged marriages and the practice of taking concubines. More women joined the workforce and earned almost 80% of what men made. According to the latest data, by 2010 women only earned 56-67% of what men made.
Now, according to a 2017 survey, 54% of women are asked about their marital and childbearing status during job interviews. President Xi is the first Chinese communist leader to openly suggest that women go back to staying in the home. He has told women to embrace their “unique role” in the family and “shoulder the responsibilities of taking care of the old and young, as well as educating children.”
When it comes to promoting women’s rights, China used to be in the lead, with nearly three out of four women working as of 1990. Now that number is down to 61%.
Beijing officially issued a directive in February to encourage laws against gender discrimination, yet the courts are still siding with tradition regarding women and their place in society.
With all the risks associated with starting a family, there are a growing number of women who aren’t having kids or getting married as a means of retaliation. Hopefully, with the threat of serious population decline, Chinese women can gain more rights.