International Women’s Day in China

By Debbie Cho | March 17, 2021
Debbie has worked in corporate accounting and holds degrees in the social sciences and financial economics. She writes on topics regarding China and finance which brings together her educational and work interests.
International Women's Day (March 8) is a global celebration of women's social, economic, cultural, and political achievements and rights.

International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global celebration of women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements and rights.

The holiday had its roots in the early American socialist movement when garment workers in New York and Chicago went on strike in 1908 for better working conditions and wages. Socialist movements embraced the day, in particular, Russia’s Communist Party who proclaimed Women’s Day on March 8, 1922. Later, China Communist Party adopted the holiday in 1949 under Mao Zedong, who stated women “hold up half the sky.” In 1977 the UN adopted the day to be celebrated internationally. 

In China, Women’s Day is called ‘Sanba Jie’ and was initially meant to promote gender equality and working opportunities for women formally relegated to domestic roles.

Although the original communist ideology promoted absolute equality, today’s reality in China bears little resemblance to the idealistic version of men and women on equal ground. There is an ever-widening disparity between men and women is apparent in the wage gap differential. By 2019 it had widened for the 5th year in a row.

Male supremacy in China today

According to online recruiter Boss Zhipin, in China, by 2019, women earned 78.2 cents for every dollar earned by a male. In terms of international rankings for wage gap China was 57 out of 139 countries surveyed in 2008 but fell to 103 out of 149 countries surveyed in 2019. 

Depictions of working women in China 1964 by Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, UofT is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Gender inequality is also obvious in work opportunities and government positions. Job placements can advertise for male-only applicants, and some industries retire women at 50, which is ten years before their male counterparts. The retirement age disparity can result in loss of income and advancement.

Discrimination against women of childbearing age was confirmed by 54% in a 2017 official party survey of women who affirmed that authorities questioned whether they planned to have children any time soon. In politics, the lack of women in leadership positions is apparent. Only one woman is part of the Politburo as of 2021. The Politburo is a group of 25 members that oversees the Chinese Communist Party. 

In 2012 the government shut down a women’s center in Beijing that provided legal advice to women on workplace sexual harassment, domestic violence, and divorce proceedings. Three years later, in 2015, a group of women named the ‘Feminist Five’ were arrested and detained for 37 days for handing out stickers against sexual harassment at bus and subway stations.

Although the intent was not an act of political dissent, the CCP took these women’s actions as an insult to “basic policies on gender equality.” A year later, an art exhibit in Beijing on feminism and domestic violence was closed before it opened. These acts deny gender equality in a country founded on absolute equality principles. 

Women’s Day protest by Uighurs and Kazakhs

As reported by ‘Bitter Winter,’ many people celebrated Women’s Day, and it was commemorated by female protesters in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Istanbul, Turkey also. The women stood outside the Chinese Consulate to bring attention to those suffering in concentration camps in Xinjiang, China. The Uighurs are a Turkic Muslim minority group mostly located in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of northwest China and have been accused of promoting terrorism and separatism.

The mass detention, forced labor, and torture of ethnic Uighurs and Kazakh groups in China has been labeled as genocide by former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Canadian and Dutch Parliament.

The BBC recently reported women’s treatment in the camps who face rape, IUD insertions, sterilization, and forced abortions.

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