Every five years, the people who will lead China for the next five years are selected. This year, citizens gather at the Great Hall of the People, which lies on the western edge of Tiananmen Square, to watch the most powerful people in China, including President Xi Jinping, grace the stage.
Six members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the Chinese Communist Party’s highest body, retired and were replaced by six new members. Of the six people chosen, none of them were women. The 25 member body went from having two women to having only one woman.
The party’s second highest body, the Central Committee, is made up of 204 people. Of those 204 people, only 10 are women. Mao Zedong, who is considered one of China’s most powerful leaders, once said, “Women hold up half of the sky.” In this case, women only hold up five percent.
It does not make sense to have so few women in powerful leadership positions in China, since women make up nearly half of the population. Unfortunately, the outcome of this event is not surprising to many women.
“It has long been a problem that the representation of women in the politics is low and, unlike in other fields, we are not seeing signs of improvement,” said Xiong Jing, the Executive Director of Feminist Voices, a non-governmental organization in Beijing.
According to its constitution, China is committed to women’s rights. If this is true, then why is the wage gap between men and women slowly increasing? In 2015, President Xi vowed to “reaffirm [the country’s] commitment to gender equality and women’s development,” but what has changed since then?
During President Xi’s speech at the replacement ceremony, the status of women was only briefly mentioned. He also did not touch on why women’s representation in China’s political bodies has dwindled in the five years that he has spent leading the country. If he has any intention of making women’s rights a priority, he did not make that clear.
There is speculation that Xi, who is considered the most powerful leader of China since Mao, will continue his reign past 2022. This is not common, but it makes sense since an heir has yet to be selected. If Xi truly wishes to include women into the political side of China, he would have already done so.
Many people have their own opinions about how the government can help end gender inequality.
“The first thing the Chinese government can do is pass a comprehensive anti-discrimination in employment law, which should include a comprehensive definition of discrimination,” said Maya Wang, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong. “They must also develop and promote new policies that give companies incentives to hire more women.”
It is up to the men in leadership positions in China, especially President Xi, to use their power to make women a priority.
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