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Country visit to China

At the invitation of the Government of China, the Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice visited the country from 12 to 19 December 2013.

In its report, the Working Group noted that for three decades, China initiated impressive reforms, resulting in exceptionally swift growth in GDP, reduction in poverty and rise in the human development index, achieving nearly half the Millennium Development Goals and passing the target for girls’ education. A 75 per cent reduction in the maternal mortality rate is predicted before 2015. Universal health insurance and a universal pension scheme are being established, although the level of benefits needs to be raised especially for rural women. 

Gender equality is guaranteed in the Constitution and national policy documents and a framework of law and policies has been established to eliminate discrimination against women, especially in employment, social security and matrimonial law and set quotas for women’s representation in village committees. Nevertheless, the Working Group observed that women are severely underrepresented at higher levels of decision-making by the executive and that reforms to facilitate women’s civil society organisation need to be deepened.

China established a public childcare system under central planning, which contributed significantly to the high level of participation of women in the labour force. Concurrently with privatisation of childcare, the Working Group notes a fall in labour market participation and an increase in the gender wage gap in the private sector.

The Working Group’s visit coincided with the announcement of the agenda for reform at the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in November 2013, deepening a socialist market economy. The Group welcomed the reform of hukou and one child policy. However, it believed there was a need to articulate policy for the empowerment of women as a goal of the reform agenda in view of the risk that deepening the transition to a market economy may have a negative impact on women, inter alia through reduction of public service jobs and care services.

The Working Group noted that challenges persist in the implementation of anti-discrimination legislation.

Discrimination in recruitment, wages, dismissal and occupational segregation persist. It also observed that there was a preference by most stakeholders to resolve conflict by mediation, while mediation alone does not provide effective accountability for implementing women’s rights under the rule of law. The Group called on the Government to provide greater access to judicial or administrative tribunals. The Group recommended further measures to prevent, prosecute and punish gender based violence, particularly in the family, in schools and against under-age children; to prevent forced abortion, increase provision of shelters for victims, cease punishment of prostitutes and improve conditions for women in custody.

The Working Group also noted that China faced a demographic challenge on an unprecedented scale with an increasingly ageing society. This, together with rapid rural-urban labour migration which often leaves rural women behind to care for children and the elderly, will impact on Chinese women who, as elsewhere, assume a major burden of unpaid care. The Working Group considered that Chinese women were at a critical juncture between equality, as leaders and beneficiaries of the reforms, or bearing a disproportionate burden of care in an increasingly privatized and ageing society. It insisted on the urgency to make good on the promises of existing law and policy, in order to advance women’s equality in practice.