The position of Chinese women has worsened over the last year, according to the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, released Wednesday by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The report examined four categories — political empowerment, health and survival, education, and economic participation and opportunity — and noted slightly worse scores compared with last year’s numbers. Moreover, the downward trend was apparent worldwide.
From 2016 to 2017, China fell one place in the report’s gender parity ranking, to No. 100 out of the 144 countries evaluated.
The report called 2017 “a bad year in a good decade,” as the global gender gap had been closing since 2006, the year the report was first published. Compared with 11 years ago, the position of Chinese women has improved as well. Only in the category of health and survival does the country perform worse now than in 2006.
This is in part because China’s sex ratio — skewed due to a traditional preference for boys that sometimes leads to infanticide or sex-selective abortions — was worst among all 144 countries. The current ratio stands at nearly 115 boys born for every 100 girls, according to the WEF. The most recent numbers from the Chinese government, from 2015, put that figure at 113.5, down from 117.7 in 2012.
To reduce the imbalance, several government departments in 2011 jointly launched the “Two Forbids” project, banning sex determination for nonmedical reasons, and forbidding abortions for reasons of gender preference. But illegal fetal testing services are nonetheless available due to continued demand.
Another policy change that is expected to close the skewed sex ratio is the two-child policy, which went into effect in January 2016. The rationale is that parents who desperately want a son now have two chances, while families who already have a boy won’t have a strong gender preference for their second child.
However, the two-child policy has also introduced new challenges for working women. According to the WEF, women in China spend 44.6 percent of their day doing unpaid work, compared with 18.9 percent for men. Since the two-child policy came into effect, women are spending more time doing unpaid work than before, according to a report earlier this year.
The past two years have also seen frequent news reports of employers discriminating against childless women and mothers who have only one child. On Thursday, Party newspaper Workers’ Daily reported that a Beijing company had forced new female employees to sign resignation letters so that they could be terminated without violating labor laws. One woman was dismissed while she was on maternity leave.
In response to the Global Gender Gap Report, Chinese net users commented on microblog platform Weibo that they thought the standing of women had indeed worsened. “Women’s labor participation rate is decreasing after the two-child policy,” wrote one user. “Only when men play a positive role in housework and baby care can the position of women really improve,” wrote another.
Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.
(Header image: A woman with a suitcase looks at a poster depicting the skyline of Shanghai, Feb. 19, 2014. Kou Cong for Sixth Tone)