During the COVID-19 pandemic in China, the virus overwhelmed Wuhan’s government. The brave fight against the deadly virus was frequently front-lined by the women as the virus took its toll on the city and all of China. Over 40,000 medical professionals valiantly fought against the virus in Wuhan and two-thirds of those were women. While female health workers and countless low-level female officials combated the virus, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) saw this as a great opportunity for publicity and used their selfless sacrifice to attain their selfish objectives of bolstering their twister narratives and gaining sympathy from the international community.
The spotlight thrust upon women in China during the COVID-19 pandemic represents an anomaly to the usual treatment of the administration towards the women. Though the CCP led by President Xi Jinping dreams of China becoming a world power, the country still harbours outmoded social expectations and inadequate workplace support for women. Such unethical ideology of the CCP has relegated them to traditional gender roles and continues to stifle the careers of Chinese women.
A state-sponsored survey conducted by All-China Women’s Federation has revealed that women comprise only 37.5 per cent of the CCP’s neighbourhood and village committees. These committees are responsible for enforcing Party mandates and maintaining social order at the grass-root level. The alarmingly low level of female participation becomes even more apparent as one starts to go up the ladder of the government hierarchy. Women comprise less than 9 per cent of the workforce in the Party as secretaries and heads of local governments at the provincial, municipal, and county levels.
CCP leadership at the county level comprises only 9.33 per cent women representation, while at the city and provincial level they comprise 5.29 and 3.23 per cent, respectively. As per a gender study called ‘theory of critical mass’, any governing body or committee must be comprised of 30 per cent women for them to have an impactful say in policymaking. With the number of women in leadership positions being so low, it is no surprise that the CCP has failed to make any meaningful policies that would improve the options, opportunities or lives of working women.
Jude Howell, a political scientist at The London School of Economics and Political science has rightly stated that as women comprise less than 9 percent of China’s leadership it is no surprise that China’s policies do nothing for the upliftment and betterment of women.
In recent years, China has passed and enacted several laws that theoretically guarantee a place for women in leadership roles. However, practically women in China rarely rise to leadership roles in the Chinese Government of the CCP. In addition to this, it is extremely rare for women to rise above the rank of a Deputy. Only two women in China hold the post of provincial governors out of 31 provinces.
In November last year, Shen Yiqin was promoted to the position of Party Secretary of Guizhou province, thus becoming China’s sole female provincial Party secretary. Yunyun Zhou, a senior lecturer at the University of Oslo has claimed that though the quota set for women in Chinese legislatures has enabled women to advance in leadership roles in China to an extent, it is simultaneously ensuring that they do not rise above the rank of Deputies.
Throughout CCP’s history, only six women have made it into the Politburo, half of those who did were the wives of some senior leaders. Also, only 10 women currently serve in the 19th Central Committee, the body of 376 of the country’s highest-ranking Party members. One of the main reasons that women have been unable to advance in the Chinese government and Chinese society is the prevalence of traditional expectations. This results in countless institutional, cultural, and political barriers that women have to overcome to advance their careers.
A 2019 report of the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics revealed that women in China spend twice as much time as men doing unpaid housework. This extra burden that women have to shoulder at home restricts them from reaching their full potential in the office. Since coming to power, President Xi Jinping has been trying to reinforce traditional gender norms and labour divisions.
Xi and other CCP members have publicly stated that women should remain indoors and take care of the household and their spouses. Chinese state media has also tried to aid the Party’s narrative by pushing articles, which claim that the women’s presence at home is necessary for the good growth of children and stability of the family.
The Chinese government’s family-virtue building propaganda and its new two-child policy have forced many women to give up their careers and accept traditional roles in the family. Zhou, of the University of Oslo, has stated that many women choose to stay in low-or middle-level civil servant positions to avoid devoting their entire lives to work, in addition to the compulsory burden of childcare.
Another reason why female representation in the Chinese government has remained low over the years is that the CCP views female civil servants as decorative pieces and female staffers are often given roles such as work dealing with internal government and Party affairs. However, male staffers are regularly given more serious duties such as those involving economic development, urban construction and public security. These tasks are the ones that frequently leads to promotions. Also, female staffers are regularly assigned tasks in the fields of welfare, health, or education, which have fewer opportunities for promotions.
Chinese media frequently labels female civil servants as ‘pretty lady cadres’. Such vocabulary, permitted and entrenched into CCP’s workplace, emphasises discrimination of the workforce on the basis of gender, appearance and sexualities. This feature reinforces the belief that female staffers are not viewed as equal colleagues.
The CCP continues to be dominated by a small group of individuals that are all men. For the Chinese Government, the participation of women in the government and Party leadership roles merely serves as a way for the CCP to seek legitimacy in front of the international community. The CCP is not truly motivated to see women advancing to leadership roles in the government. This is why, despite several laws being passed and quotas being established, women’s participation in the provincial and municipality level remains abysmal.
Though the contribution and sacrifice of the women healthcare workers are being exploited by Xi Jinping’s leadership to portray a goodie-goodie face of China on the global canvas, China still is hesitant to give women their due place in society as well as the workplace. This also reminds us of the famous Chinese story of Mulan, who had to undergo a lot to get recognized by the Chinese Emperor as the hero of China. Only the mighty God knows how much the Mulans of today in China will have to go through to get their due recognition from the authoritarian regime of Xi Jinping.