Bridging China’s Gender GapMay 2, 2011 No Comments
What would we do in a world without women? This is usually a philosophical question for apocalyptic novels that take place far into the future, but China is having to face it now.
China may be bridging the gender gap that widened after the Chinese government instituted the one-child policy in 1980, but there’s still 34 million more men than women. The government has been slow to act, thinking only in terms of controlling over-population in China, and now the Chinese people face serious consequences.
Although men were clearly favoured in the one-child rule, with many families using sex-selection (i.e. aborting females or infanticide) to have a son, they still face having to compete for wives. Men have resorted to marrying their cousins and even kidnapping brides out of desperation.
The most serious consequences, though, are for women, who are the victims of such kidnappings and the target of fierce competition between men for mates. With too many men and “missing girls,” women have become hot commodities in China.
But they’ve become hot commodities insofar as men need them to procreate and so help China’s hope for a bright economic future. With an aging workforce, China will soon face a shortage of workers due to an imbalance between the old and the young. Since 2000, families were no longer allowed to use ultrasounds to determine the sex of their babies, but women are still devalued in general. This is a problem that can’t be solved by banning sex-selection practices.
It’s a question of shifting attitudes about women in Chinese society. Women were obviously undervalued before the policy, but the one-child rule has certainly solidified this feeling that if a couple had to choose, of course they would choose to have a boy. Although many couples are opting now to have a girl instead, it doesn’t automatically change a deeply ingrained belief that males are the superior sex. It’s just that they’re finally seeing the grave consequences of gender preference to control population growth.
It seems we can be hopeful in that activists are pushing for cultural change within China, as Ma Jiantang, the National Statistics Bureau commissioner said, “We have been and will continue to adopt more gender equality programs for employment and remunerations.”
They’re definitely taking the steps to effect change, but China’s deep rift can only be healed when the gender gap ceases to exist in people’s minds. Of course women are valuable in terms of marriage and in the big picture of procreation, but they’re also equal contributors to Chinese culture and economy and it’s time people realized that.
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