A new law outlining specific jobs not suitable for women is aimed at curbing employment discrimination, a senior labor official said.
However, scholars and legal experts argued that the legal clause might hurt job freedom for women if gender restrictions failed to have legitimate, scientific backing.
"We have observed in the past that some employers gave no excuse, but refused to recruit female workers because they wanted to," Zhang Xiaojian, vice-minister of labor and social security, said.
"But if we can identify which jobs are definitely not suitable for women by law, the situation might change.
"We must ensure these detailed legal arrangements support the newly passed Employment Promotion Law."
The law will take effect on January 1.
Vice-President of China Women's University Li Mingshun said that while he appreciated the "goodwill" of the administration to ensure equal job opportunities and a fair employment environment, he said it should fully evaluate the potential negative impacts of the restrictions.
"Instead of specifying the jobs in the law, I would prefer highlighting the protection measures to ensure the safety of women when they are engaged in some dangerous jobs," Li said.
The State Council has issued an administrative regulation on protecting female workers, in which it advises women not to work in mines.
The labor ministry also identifies several jobs that are unsuitable for women in an administrative regulation, which include working in mines, lumbering, the installation and removal of scaffolding and carrying material weighing more than 20 kg and over six times an hour.
'Let workers decide'
Li Ying, deputy director of the Center for Women's Law & Legal Services of Peking University, said the government should let workers decide.
"Some jobs are not suitable for women when viewed from a traditional perspective, but some women may want to choose where they work. I don't want to see this (law) becoming another example of work discrimination," Li said.
"It could be just like the awkward situation of the big difference in the retirement ages between male and female workers in China."
A male worker can retire at 60 but a woman must retire at 50, according to an administrative regulation issued in 1978, when the policy-makers tried to protect female workers from heavy physical jobs.
Theresa Qiu, senior partner of Allbright Law Offices, said that although women in China are still at an overall disadvantaged position in job market, they enjoy better, more equal work opportunities in some big cities like Shanghai.
"We found more companies focus on the abilities and potential of the candidates rather than gender," Qiu said.
(China Daily October 11, 2007)