HomeLearning CenterChina Is Backsliding on Women’s Rights

China Is Backsliding on Women’s Rights

Originally published by Raja Krishnamoorthi and Kathy Castor for the Washington Post

Mao Zedong once declared that “women hold up half the sky.” Yet even the pretense of that belief has been abandoned in today’s China.

President Xi Jinping, Mao’s current successor as Communist Party chairman, has turned back the clock on the role of women in society and the workplace. His policies have driven women out of political decision-making, out of the workforce and back into subordinate roles in all aspects of modern life. This backsliding by China gives U.S. policymakers an opportunity to offer women and girls worldwide a better model for their lives.

Despite initial progress after the Communist Revolution and the “Reform and Opening Up” that started in 1978, women in the People’s Republic of China have never reached parity with men in either leadership or social status. While they nominally enjoyed the same rights as men, the societal preference for boys over girls persisted, as demonstrated by the results of the one-child policy, which more often favored male children over female.

In recent years, even after the relaxation of the one-child policy, China has experienced a considerable decline in birthrates as its society rapidly ages. This has resulted in calls from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for women to exit the workforce and the public sector to focus on childbearing and more traditional roles in the home.

For the first time in two decades, there are no women in the Politburo, the CCP’s executive policymaking body. The absence of women leaders in China’s top tiers of government reflects broader systemic and cultural factors within the CCP. Xi called on female attendees at the National Women’s Congress in Beijing last year to leave the workplace, return home, get married and have children. In a concerted effort over the past few decades to compel young women to marry early, state-controlled media have shamed unmarried women in their late 20s as “leftover women.”

Back to News