Gender Inequality Persists in China
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While China has experienced unsurpassed economic development in recent decades, this progress has not been even in achieving gender equality. The country, like its Asia-Pacific counterparts, remains hindered by the presence of a severe gender gap. Women across the region continue to lack power, voice and rights; this void can impede a country's further economic growth.
Those were some of the findings of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) sponsored 2010 Asia-Pacific Human Development Report launched Wednesday; entitled Power, Voice and Rights: A Turning Point for Gender Equality in Asia and the Pacific. "Women's Day is a great platform to highlight gender equality as a powerful investment," said Khalid Malik, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in China. "While China has made remarkable progress in improving the status of women, we know that there is no country in the world which is free from gender gaps."
Aiming to enhance policies toward gender equality, the Report focuses on three areas of interest -- economic power, political voice and the establishment of legal rights.
According to the Report, lack of women's participation in the workforce costs the region billions of dollars every year. In countries such as India, Indonesia and Malaysia conservative estimates show that GDP would increase by up to 2-4 percent annually if women's employment rates were raised to 70 percent, closer to the rate of many developed countries. In China, nearly 70 percent of women are in paid work, well above the global average of 53 percent. This statistic runs parallel to the higher long-term growth and industrialization experienced by the nation.
The Report also finds that Asia-Pacific women hold only a handful of political offices, fewer than anywhere else in the world except in the Arab region. Development level does not necessarily correlate with high political participation for women, either; women in Japan and the Republic of Korea, for example, hold just 10 percent of legislative seats. Female representatives in China's National People's Congress have lingered around 21 percent since 1983.
In rural China, although women make up 65 percent of the rural labor force, they occupy only 1-2 percent of the local decision-making positions. Throughout Asia-Pacific, women head only 7 percent of farms, compared to 20 percent in most other regions of the world.
The problem of "missing girls" -- in which more boys are born rather than girls and women die from health and nutrition neglect -- is actually growing throughout the region. China and India together account for more than 85 million of the nearly 100 million "missing" women estimated to have died from discriminatory treatment in health care, nutrition access or pure neglect -- or because they were never born in the first place, the Report found. With China's strong preference for male offspring, in 2005, the sex ratio of children under the age of 5 totaled 122.66 (122 boys for every 100 girls born), the highest ratio in all of Asia Pacific.
Putting in place policies which favor gender equality while boosting female political participation are some of the solutions recommended by the Report to help mend the gender gap. In its efforts, the UN system promotes gender mainstreaming in all its programs and adopts gender-responsive, human-oriented, rights-based approaches to China's Millennium Development Goals. "Gender equality is not only an end in itself, but integral for the achievement of further economic and social development, and thus is a continuing priority for UNDP globally and in China," concluded Malik.
(China Development Gateway March 10, 2010)