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Despite progress, China needs to do more to fight gender discrimination, says UN group

Credit: OHCHR
Credit: OHCHR

Despite progress, China needs to do more to fight gender discrimination, says UN group

Despite remarkable strides in improving women’s lives, China is insufficiently implementing relevant laws against discrimination and more needs to be done to ensure their full participation in the economy and politics as well as equality in wages and recruitment, according to a United Nations working group.

“A framework of law and policy has been put into place to eliminate discrimination against women,” Frances Raday, Chairperson of the UN Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice, said at the end of the Group’s first visit to the country. “But there remain persistent discriminatory practices, stereotypes and insufficient implementation of the laws.”

As the country faces unprecedented challenges in an increasingly aging and mobile society and in a highly competitive market economy, women are at an historical crossroad between bearing the disproportionate burden of care and being equal decision makers in China's new path of deepening reforms, according to the Group, which visited China from 12 to 19 December to assess the progress towards achieving gender equality and protecting and promoting women’s human rights.

China has exceeded the 2015 Millennium Development Goals in increasing the level of education for girls and reducing maternal mortality, but women still lag behind men in political and economic participation, and the five-member Group called for a comprehensive gender policy to be integrated into the agenda for reform by the Communist Party.

It stressed that urgent action is necessary to ensure the equal participation of women in top decision-making bodies, including by the use of temporary special measures.

“There is an increased need in the new market economy to ensure women's equal opportunity to be employed in decent work in the formal labour market, equal access to housing, land, credit, government procurement and tertiary education,” Ms. Raday said.

The Group called on the Government to further examine the impact of a transition to a market economy on women and improve ways to achieve it without sacrificing decent work and living conditions, social protection floors and health services.

“Women’s full and effective participation in the design and implementation of macro-economic polices is essential to achieve these ends,” Ms. Raday added.

The Group cited discrimination against women in recruitment, wages and dismissals, particularly on the grounds of maternity. While welcoming the introduction of paid maternity leave, it called on the Government to reduce income inequalities and extend protection to the informal labour market, which employs a large number of women.

“We recommend that men should be encouraged to share the care burden, including by the introduction of an improved paternity leave,” Ms. Raday noted. “Other solutions include establishment of state-funded care institutions for the elderly and for children from lower and middle-income families, provision of domestic and care services for communities and support for provision of care by grandparents.”

On violence against women, the Group voiced the hope that drafting a comprehensive law on all forms of violence against women and girls will increase the availability and quality of support services, such as shelters, legal aid and medical services, which are currently insufficient. Training and capacity building is also required to increase the gender responsiveness of judges, prosecutors, police and lawyers.

“China’s capacity to address the challenge of eliminating discrimination against women depends on the free flow of information and on open democratic debate,” Group member Kamala Chandrakirana of Indonesia said, calling on the Government to guarantee freedom of speech, expression and assembly for all, including for women who are defending their rights and interests on an individual basis or through collective action.

“We are however, concerned about reports of repressive measures taken against dissenting voices,” she added.

The Group, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, will report back to the Geneva-based Council with its conclusions and recommendations in June.