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Chinese Women Pursue Gender Equality in Choosing Between Career and Family

On the international Women's Day morning, Li Na, a Beijing career woman, drove to her office in the capital's CBD, ignoring greeting messages from her friends.


Li, 29, a section manager, distinguished herself from male competitors. She has been married for three years, but has no children due to the pressures of work.


According to a report released by the State Council, women account for 45 percent of the total workforce in China.


Commonly referred to as "half of the sky" after Mao Zedong's saying that "Women can hold up half the sky", women are entering many high-tech or knowledge-intensive industries like computer software, communications and finance.


Li considers herself lucky to have her position her own endeavors in a foreign company as many women have come up against discrimination or inequity at the first step to their careers.


Gender Discrimination in Employment


"Gender equality has been widely talked about," complains Yu Lan, a Shanghai job-hunter, "but we women still feel a wordless embarrassment when we talk to employers."


Yu came back to Shanghai shortly after the Spring Festival, giving up three days of her family get-together only to find a cold reception from a prospective employer in Xujiahui in the south of Shanghai.


"They were concerned about my age," 26-year-old Yu says. "They worried that I'd probably get married and pregnant shortly after starting work, although they superficially claimed that gender was not an issue."


A survey conducted in seven universities in central China's Henan Province showed almost 80 percent of the students believe the inequality in employment opportunities was the worst gender problem today.


Zhang Liren, vice secretary-general of the social gender research center, Zhengzhou University in Henan, said the dissatisfaction over employment inequity reflected the reality.


In China, no employer will set targets for women employees, and some openly reject female applicants. Female university graduates face higher pressures than male graduates in finding a job.


Influenced by Confucianism, unjust gender conceptions like "Man is superior to woman" and "Marry a dog, live with a dog" have dominated thinking for thousands of years in China.


Women only featured on the social stage after the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, when they were "liberated" from oppression and humiliation.


However, modern women are choosing to come out of the family and compete with men mostly as a result of living pressures.


"I don't want to fight with men for jobs if my husband can afford all mortgage and other expenses," Li Na said.


Yu Lan disagreed with Li, saying a woman should be financially independent and make her own preparations for later life.


Yu's concern is rational. According to a report from the China Association for the Aged, one third of the urban poor are over 50, most of them women.


Back to family, a new trend?


However, a group of well-educated women who choose to live more traditional roles is emerging in China.


Some choose to do a job of love -- such as school teachers -- rather than a job with a high salary. Some even choose to be full-time housewives.


Zhou Xiaobai graduated from a university in southwest China's Sichuan Province. She married a university classmate after graduation and became a housewife.


"No matter what you choose, career woman or housewife, the key point here is to allow me to make my own choice," Zhou said. "Women should be treated equally without social discrimination and prejudice."


In well-off provinces such as Guangdong, more women are comfortable being housewives than in comparatively poor provinces.


A survey in Guangdong showed more than 40 percent of women want to be a housewife if the family's finances allow.


Professor Pan Yunkang, of China's Marriage and Family Research Institute, said, "The differences between woman and man exist from birth. Respect the differences, physical and mental, and give women the right to choose their own lifestyle, then gender equality can be realized."


(Xinhua News Agency March 9, 2007)

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