Chinese Women Found Their Voice in 2022, But Is Anyone Listening?
Chinese women found a new voice to demand change in 2022. The government’s tentative response suggests tensions may only deepen in the coming year.
Strains between China’s estimated 690 million women and the Communist Party’s male-dominated leadership rippled through the year’s political debates. Beijing’s efforts to celebrate the Winter Olympics were marred by a tennis star’s allegations that she was coerced into sex with a retired state leader. Outrage flared on social media over a video showing male restaurant-goers beating women, as well as a mother chained in a shack.
While Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government has said little about the emergence of this potentially potent political force, it did push through an overhaul of an almost three-decade-old women’s rights law in October. The Women’s Rights and Interests Protection Law, which takes effect on Jan. 1, urges measures to eliminate discrimination against women, such as denying female employees promotions due to circumstances like marriage and pregnancy.
But provisions to water down the measure, including a reminder for women to “respect family values,” reveal the government’s reluctance to embrace sweeping change. At the same time, the party excluded women from its ruling Politburo for the first time in 25 years during a twice-a-decade reshuffle that saw Xi appointed for a precedent-breaking third term.
Even so, female leaders interviewed by Bloomberg News in the closing weeks of 2022 said the determination of Chinese women to defend their rights will only grow. How the party addresses anxieties among the increasingly well-educated and outspoken group could have long-lasting ramifications for the country’s stability and growth prospects.
“The natural duty of the government and the legislature is to listen to the people,” said Feng Yuan, co-founder of Beijing Equality, an advocacy group for women’s rights. “Updating the law is a response, but it’s not enough.”
Women’s demands for greater recognition have risen quietly for decades as China’s now-abandoned policy of restricting families to one child spurred many parents to focus on securing a quality education for their only daughters.