People’s Republic of CHINA

Type Working Paper - Asian Development Bank
Title People’s Republic of CHINA
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2006
This gender assessment is undertaken to ascertain the current situation with regard to
gender and development in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The gender assessment
comprises part of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) country partnership strategy for the PRC,
and adheres to the ADB gender and development policy.
Gender and Poverty. The PRC has made significant progress in reducing poverty among
its citizens—from 49% in 1989 to less than 7% in 2002. However, the gender dimensions of
poverty in the PRC have not been systematically diagnosed so that they can be appropriately
incorporated into poverty programs, and the PRC’s progress as measured by the Gender-related
Development Index lags behind that of its general Human Development Index. Given the ongoing
structural changes in the economy, this may mean that women are generally not sharing the
benefits equally with men, and are in fact disadvantaged in comparison to them.
As more rural men than women seek employment away from their villages, an increasing
number of households are de facto headed by women who must now run the farm and the
household. Thus, women farmers are especially vulnerable to poverty. Women spend substantially
more time than men on household chores (about twice as much time), limiting the time they have
for income-generating activities. Simultaneously, the transition to the market economy has resulted
in fewer services available to ameliorate the demands on women’s time.
Although women legally have equal rights with men, in practice they have difficulty
attaining their rights, including for land use. Without access to land, rural women are destitute.
Efforts to assist women often are made in a stereotypical manner by assuming avenues are limited
by gender, and by promoting women-specific projects while not mainstreaming the integration of
women into all poverty-reduction efforts.
Economic Development. During the transition to a market economy, the employment of
men increased 4% more than that of women. In the age group 24 and over, more women than men
have been laid off and far fewer have been reemployed. Those who are reemployed often find jobs
in the informal sector at low wages, and with little or no benefits nor protection. Moreover, the
retirement age for women is lower than that for men by 5 years, which results in their receiving
smaller pensions than men do.
Most working women are concentrated in service sector jobs and work in rural areas. Such
work is considered to be low skilled and receives low pay. During 1990–2000, wages rose
dramatically, but the income gap between men and women increased by 7.4%. Part of the problem
results from women spending at least twice as much time as men on housework. Employers
generally prefer to hire men because they assume women will devote greater time to family
responsibilities than men, and to avoid providing maternity benefits. Labor laws keep women from
employment in hazardous work, reinforcing stereotypes about women.
x Country Gender Assessment—People’s Republic of China
Women who go into business tend to be in low-paying services. Although women have
proven to be successful entrepreneurs, they have greater difficulty accessing credit than men,
except for microcredit specifically targeting women. This has proven effective, and women
borrowers have a high success rate in their activities and repayments. Microcredit schemes have
also helped women gain confidence and respect for their newly exhibited leadership abilities.
In rural areas, men usually assume leadership and decision-making roles. However, more
women have had to take over these roles when their men leave for jobs elsewhere. This has
enhanced the decision-making abilities of rural women.
Low or negative returns from farming are forcing rural people to look for jobs elsewhere.
The PRC has an estimated 130 million migrant residents, most of them young adults. While
traditionally, men have been the first to migrate in search of work, young women are now joining
them in increasing numbers. Migrant workers face harsh conditions, low pay, and little protection
or benefits. Women tend to specialize in export industries and household services, while men are
often in construction. Women migrants have contributed greatly to export growth but have a very
small share in its benefits.
Human Development. Relative to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, the PRC
has made significant advances in reducing infant—under-5—and maternal mortality rates (MMRs),
although there is concern over the higher rate of mortality among female infants than among males.
The Government has nearly achieved universal primary education, although this has proven more
difficult in minority areas. Nationwide, the enrolment was over 96% in 2000, up from about 76% a
decade earlier.
Education achievements have increased substantially from 1990 to 2000 and gender gaps
have narrowed, but are still very wide at the upper levels, with twice as many males as females
with college-level or higher education. The Government has implemented programs to assure that
the cost of basic schooling for rural and poor students is covered.
The Government has successfully implemented laws and policies aimed at improving
women’s health care. Life expectancies have lengthened and MMRs have decreased. However, the
effects of privatization of the health care system compromise the gains. The natural population
growth rate has decreased significantly, but the sex ratio at birth is skewed abnormally in favor of
male infants, and the mortality rate of female infants is higher than that of males. The Government
is implementing programs to improve maternal and child health (MCH) care, especially in poor and
rural areas.
The Government’s reproductive health program, which was primarily targeted at
population control, now also focuses on the promotion of general reproductive health and
combating HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases. It has implemented several programs
aimed at treating people with HIV/AIDS and assisting them and their families. However, infections
are rising faster among women than among men because of women’s increased vulnerability to the
disease. Special education and information dissemination activities are under way in an effort to
Executive Summary xi
increase knowledge about HIV/AIDS among women and youth. Migrant women are especially
vulnerable as they may not have access to health care or knowledge about it.
Further Gender Concerns. Gender-based violence is receiving increased attention. Local
initiatives have been taken to assist victims, but can only meet a small fraction of the need. Women
are increasingly aware of what sexual harassment entails and of their legal rights, and young
women are increasingly willing to protest against it. Pertinent laws need rewording and
Trafficking of women and children is difficult to document, but indications are that it is
rising. Victims from rural areas may be enticed by promises of good jobs, then find out that they
are forced into prostitution or marriage. Government and nongovernment agencies have made
serious efforts to combat trafficking. The Government has ratified relevant United Nations (UN)
conventions and is actively working with UN and other organizations to counteract the problem.
Nevertheless, the Government needs to strengthen its laws and enforcement, improve data
collection and research on trafficking, and reduce poverty among women, especially as the skewed
birth ratio is likely to increase the number of incidences of trafficking of women.
The PRC is experiencing water shortages, which impact women more severely than men,
as women are often responsible for household chores and collecting water. A water cellar project is
being implemented to assist families in water-poor areas, and has benefited 1 million people.
Benefits include reduction of the time women spend fetching water, and thus increasing the time
they have for other productive activities. The Government is also making progress in reversing
deforestation and, through the All China Women’s Federation (ACWF), women have had a very
significant part in the afforestation program.
While the PRC has insurance coverage for its citizens, including pension, medical,
unemployment, and work injury insurance, more men than women participate in the insurance
schemes. Women generally work fewer years than men because they take time out for family
responsibilities, retire earlier, and work in lower-paid sectors; hence, women generally have lower
pensions than men. Women are also accessing health care less than men due to its increasing costs
and the limited coverage of medical insurance. The minimum living standard insurance benefits
jobless people in cities and towns. However, because it is provided to the household head, women
may not have adequate say over the use of this insurance. Maternity insurance is also provided, but
the amount given is less than needed for good quality medical services. Gender analysis of the
social insurance schemes is needed, and of their impact on women, so that they can be better
tailored to the needs of women as well as those of men.
Policies and the Institutional Environment for Gender Equality. The PRC has an
extensive legal system for the protection of women’s legal rights, and the Constitution specifies
that women and men have equal rights. The PRC is signatory to the UN Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The PRC adopted a law
specifically for women in 1992, and amended it in 2005 to include (i) the national policy of gender
equality; (ii) the state’s responsibilities in promoting national women’s development and
integrating it into the overall national economic and social program; (iii) clarification of the
xii Country Gender Assessment—People’s Republic of China
Government’s responsibilities in protecting women’s rights, and the role of AWCF; (iv)
reaffirmation of the need for greater representation of women in government, and for addressing
women’s rights to education, work, and their person; and (v) prohibition of domestic violence and
sexual harassment. The amendment is an important step forward, but some people note that it and
other recent laws for women lack binding force for implementation and retain the image of women
as caregivers rather than promoting an image of women as functioning in all occupations.
The number of women in the legal system has increased slowly since 1995. In 2002, 22%
of prosecutors, 21% of judges, and 14% of lawyers were female. The Government has
implemented programs aimed at raising awareness of women’s rights among the general
population. It needs to review extant legislation to remove discriminatory provisions and gaps, and
to enhance the implementation and enforcement of laws on women’s rights.
The PRC has successfully established the legal basis for women’s rights and built national
women’s organizations. ACWF, which was formed in 1949, has nationwide reach as well as
international influence and contacts. The National Working Committee on Children and Women
(NWCCW) was created in 1992 under the State Council to coordinate work pertaining to women
and children, and to further their causes. It drafts and runs the national programs for women and
children, and intercedes with other government departments regarding protecting the rights of
women and children. ACWF is publicizing the state policy on gender nationwide, and NWCCW
will provide gender training in the Central Party School, to raise gender awareness of policy
makers and increase their capacities in gender analysis and planning.
Gender and Governance. Since the mid-1990s, new women’s organizations have been
formed, ranging from hotlines to assist women with problems to leagues of women mayors and
associations of women scientists. Women’s study centers have proposed practical ways to handle
specific problems faced by women.
Few women are found in high-level positions in politics or government administration.
Recent public administration reform has dampened women’s chances to advance in government
because their retirement age is lower than that of men and their opportunities to advance are
hampered when they are raising a child. Affirmative action is not used to compensate for these
Recommendations for Mainstreaming Gender. Recommendations include the
• Improve data collection and analysis of gender-related issues contributing to
poverty, and develop gender-based approaches and frameworks for research and
interventions in gender and poverty reduction.
• Promote gender equality in employment and its integration with family activities.
• Work to change stereotypes that place and keep women in low-paying jobs and
positions that do not entail decision-making responsibilities.
• Promote equal access to education at all levels for men and women.
Executive Summary xiii
• To normalize the sex ratio at birth and in infant mortality, develop campaigns and
policies that benefit families with girls.
• Analyze and compensate for the impacts of the Health Sector Reform by reducing
or eliminating user fees for MCH care for poor women, and mobilize women’s
organizations to disseminate health information and monitor health services.
• For reproductive health, increase men’s responsibility for family planning; increase
dissemination of information and access to all, including adolescents and migrants;
and develop schemes to compensate men and women caring for the ill.
• Decrease domestic violence and sexual harassment by amending the Women’s
Law and other laws to ensure they are enforceable.
• Ensure that women are actively involved in all phases of activities pertaining to the
use of natural resources.
• Strengthen women’s national organizations so they have greater influence on
policies and legislation that impacts women.
• Develop strategies to enforce laws pertaining to women’s equality, including
rights to land, and conduct gender awareness training for judges and law enforcers.
• Among government personnel at all levels, develop awareness of the importance
and impact of gender issues and capacity to address them.
Mainstreaming Gender Equality in ADB Operations. Recommendations for
mainstreaming gender equality into ADB’s operations in the PRC include the following:
• Ensure that women participate fully in ADB project activities to assure their
equitable access to economic opportunities.
• Carry out detailed social and gender analysis during project design. Develop an
action plan with specific targets, linked to project objectives, and monitor progress.
Include gender capacity building in the plan.
• Support and encourage the employment of women on project management teams
and in all types of employment for projects.
• Support women’s entrepreneurship by analyzing reasons for their low participation
in small and medium enterprises, making the changes needed to facilitate their
participation, providing training and access to information and knowledge, and
providing access to credit.
• Ensure that women’s priorities are considered in the design and implementation of
projects pertaining to the environment and use of natural resources.

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