Leading Article: Women's talk in China

Share
Related Topics
It is difficult to think of an easier target for sneering than the UN conference on women, which finally got under way in Peking yesterday.

The sneerers have two main arguments. The first is that the very idea of a UN world conference on women is ludicrous, because there is no such thing as a set of issues relevant to women across the world, and that even if there were, a conference of governmental types would not be much use in addressing them. The second objection is that even if a worthwhile agenda could be defined, China would be among the least suitable places to consider it. China remains a one-party state, hostile to liberal values, and a place where resistance to the very birth of females has caused the natural gender balance in the population to drift from a norm of 106 males for every 100 females to a ratio of 114:100 at the last count.

These are both serious arguments and they are both wrong. Let us take the second one first. Its logic is that China is such a beastly place that the enlightened West should have as little to do with it as possible. Never mind that early in the next century it could be the biggest economy on earth or that this week a history of our millennium suggests, daringly, that we may yet count it as a blip between eras of Chinese global supremacy. Those who wish to ignore China may be assured that China will not ignore them. That is why, rightly, great effort is being put into drawing China fully into the international economic system through membership of the World Trade Organisation. China may still have an unacceptable political culture, but the chance of it getting better is surely greater if its people and its leaders are exposed to ideas, goods and people from beyond its borders. This UN conference and its related non-governmental gathering is a useful component in that process.

So what about the first argument? It is true that the diverse agenda of women's concerns - ranging through health, education, criminal justice and economics - are all in some sense the province of some well-established arm of government or UN agency, such as the World Health Organisation. Better, say the critics, to concentrate upon the subject to hand, rather than bracketing issues beneath the misleading banner of gender. Rather than a Ministry of Women, ensure that women's economic concerns are properly understood and represented in the finance ministry and the parliament.

There is truth in this, but it risks taking too narrow and conventional view of politics. The earthquake of female rights in the West this century was hardly driven by parliamentary committee. UN conferences, like the one at Rio on environmental issues, may be unwieldy and hard to follow, but they help to build networks and raise awareness. They also assist in the process whereby social policy is tested by international comparison and good practice spreads. No modern business would dare to function without knowledge of relevant international trends: why deny ourselves such tools in the social sphere?

What matters about events in China this week is not, primarily, the wording of the conference's final declaration, but the arguments that attend it. Benazir Bhutto's tirade against female infanticide will resonate through Asia. So, if we can set aside our arrogance, should the league table which puts Britain well below average for female representation in parliament. Don't knock the Peking conference. Listen.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS2 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Ofsted said "A good larger...

SEN Learning Support Assistant

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a Learning Support A...

Primary Teacher

£90 - £145 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Primary Su...

Service Delivery Manager - Software Company

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager Kingston Up...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: Ed Miliband on low pay; Alan Johnson on Betjeman; Tom Freeman on editing

John Rentoul
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments