Despite Mao's feminism, women still in the minority

Beijing

One in five of the world's women live in China but anyone looking for female representation in the new Standing Committee, the nation's apex of power, will be searching in vain.

Despite Chairman Mao's notion that "anything men can do, women can do too", the situation for women remains dire. The members of the new Standing Committee announced yesterday are all men: there has never been a woman on the Standing Committee in the history of the People's Republic.

There is a glimmer of hope on the 25-member Politburo, where female representation has doubled, albeit only from one member to two. That is the best female representation since the height of the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution, when Chairman Mao's wife Jiang Qing and the wife of his vice-chairman served.

The two women in the Politburo are new addition Sun Chunlan, 62, and Liu Yandong.

The Mao-era dictum was that "women hold up half the sky", but in modern China women's incomes are falling compared with men's, with women often expected to stay at home. Their net wealth is falling, despite double-digit percentage growth rates for a number of years. Only 2.2 per cent of working women in China are in management positions.

In 2010, the average annual income for women was 67 per cent that of men in urban areas and 56 per cent in the countryside. That is down 10.2 and 23 percentage points since 1990.

For a real insight into where women stand in the political arena, you need only turn to the People's Daily. In a pictorial on its website, it shows how the "beautiful ritual girls, female reporters and delegates to the Party Congress become beautiful scenery".

Feng Yuan, head of the Anti-Domestic Violence Network in Beijing, described efforts to boost the status of women in China as "the longest revolution". "All other revolutions are pretty easy and short in comparison," she told the International Herald Tribune.

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