Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, March 08, 2012

An emerging civil society, maybe

In the PRC, the Party tried, pretty successfully, to control any civil society group from the Catholic church to neighborhood kite flying clubs. That may be changing. And the roles women play in society may be changing.

Chinese Women’s Progress Stalls on Many Fronts
China, home to one in five of the world’s women, is among the few countries where women are experiencing a rights rollback, according to feminists, researchers and data from the All-China Women’s Federation, which is appointed and run by the government to represent women’s interests.

In the 1950s, women here enjoyed top-down gains bestowed by the Communist Party and Mao Zedong’s maxim that “whatever male comrades can do, female comrades can do, too.”

The blinding shimmer of the last 35 years of economic gains obscures the fact that while Chinese women have benefited from the rising tide lifting all boats, they are in fact losing ground.

Women’s incomes are falling relative to men’s; traditional attitudes are relegating women to the home; and women’s net wealth may be shrinking. While female parliamentary representation elsewhere is rising, the percentage of women in China’s national legislature, the National People’s Congress, has flat-lined for decades at just over 20 percent…

Despite a powerful official narrative that women’s rights are well protected, there is no movement per se to protect women… or expand the female factor in general.

Feng Yuan, a feminist academic and head of the Anti-Domestic Violence Network in Beijing, said, “China doesn’t have any independent social movements.”…

There is no woman in the inner circle of power, the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Communist Party, which has nine members; there is one among the 25 members of the Politburo…

In the government’s most recent measure of how women are faring… nearly 62 percent of men and nearly 55 percent of women said “men belong in public life and women belong at home,” increases of 7.7 and 4.4 percentage points from 2000.

The income gap is widening, the survey found…

On the other hand, from the Chinese news agency, Xinhua:

Progress of Chinese women in full swing
At the ongoing parliamentary session, Premier Wen Jiabao mentioned the word "women" four times in his government work report, highlighting the role of women's progress in China's development agenda.

Wen pledged to "improve the well-being of women and children and better guarantee their rights and interests" in the report to the National People's Congress, and also promised to take care of the children, women and elderly people left behind by rural migrant workers who work in cities.

In fact, progress for the women of China is in full swing, granting women more dignity and independence everywhere from the economic and political arenas to their households…

The relatively small number of female politicians in China is a topic criticized by Western media. However, the ratio of female national lawmakers stands at 22 percent, compared with only 17 percent in the United States…

In addition to entering the political arena, Chinese women are also amassing fortunes. China now has more self-made female billionaires than any other country in the world, and many of these female entrepreneurs have rags-to-riches stories that have inspired others to follow suit.

Chinese women, therefore, no longer stand behind men. They have more choices in their lives, creating distance from the traditional image of women as obedient housewives…

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