Learning Chinese: A law of women

Source:Globaltimes.cn Published: 2012-7-6 17:21:11


Women line up at the restroom at the Xidan subway station in Beijing on Thursday, while the men's room is almost empty. Activists said the scene, commonly seen at public restrooms across China, is an instance of gender discrimination by restroom designers. Photo: Li Hao/GT
Women line up at the restroom at the Xidan subway station in Beijing on Thursday, while the men's room is almost empty. Activists said the scene, commonly seen at public restrooms across China, is an instance of gender discrimination by restroom designers. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Yang Bo, 22, graduated from the Guangdong University of Business Studies this summer. She was told by her new boss that she shouldn't get married, or at least, shouldn't have a child during the next five years, or she would lose her job.

As a fresh graduate, Yang felt that this was inappropriate. "Why can't a woman have a baby, just because of her job?" she asked herself.

Yang wasn't the only female student who experienced gender discrimination while looking for a job. A survey that polled 2,000 women by the Shenzhen Women's Federation (SZWF) in 2010 showed that over 40 percent of respondents said they had experienced discrimination at the hands of employers.

"We began to consider making a law, as we were shocked by the survey results showing that a large number of women were being discriminated against at work," Cai Li, chairman of the SZWF, told the Global Times.

The first regional law promoting gender equality in China, drafted last year by the SZWF, was passed by the Standing Committee of the People's Congress of Shenzhen on Friday.

"It's a breakthrough in China, where no specific laws have been made in the name of gender equality in the past," Ye Jingyi, a professor of labor law with Peking University, told the Global Times.

"The new law aims to solve inequality with a legal system, something more than comforting words," Cai said. The law is to be enacted in January 2013. Before then, the SZWF has a lot to prepare. "I can see many difficulties ahead," Cai added.

Putting words into action

To enforce the new law, an institution run by the SZWF will be set up by the end of this year to deal with complaints from citizens, industry supervision and assessing policies for discriminatory clauses. It will also discuss affirmative action with companies in regards to employment quotas in certain industries.

"The institution will talk to companies that have inappropriate gender ratios and try to balance the situation with both verbal suggestions and paper regulations," Cai said.

The institution will also help people like Yang analyze her experience in accordance with the legal definitions of gender discrimination, and write an official report defining whether the complainant experienced discrimination in the legal sense.

"The report can be used as legal evidence, which the victim can use to ask the company to correct their behavior or launch a lawsuit," Yu Changxiu, a lawyer with the women rights department of the SZWF, told the Global Times.

The new law stipulates that companies that refuse to correct discriminatory behavior will have their deeds publicized in the media and will lose any titles or honors issued by the government, such as "best employer." This process would be handled by the Shenzhen Human Resources and Social Security Bureau. Companies could also be fined between 3,000 ($472)and 30,000 yuan.

As a labor law professor, Ye has been working on protecting women's labor rights and she was delighted to see Shenzhen putting together this law. She does however, have concerns as to its effectiveness.

"In the past, we received calls from women complaining that they were treated unequally at work, but we couldn't find a provision in the law to actually prove misconduct by their companies, so many complaints remained unresolved," Yu said.

"The national Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Women only serves as a national principle and encourages women's rights, but fails to provide detailed measures to deal with discrimination cases," Ye said.

Because of the ambiguity within the laws, Cai found that many companies were able to create loopholes through things like height requirements, or provisions preventing employees from having children within set periods.

"Job ads stating a preference for male workers are also considered gender discrimination," said Cai, who spent almost six months spelling out a clear definition and list of acts constituting gender discrimination.

Cai believes that the law is very pragmatic, but said that it would be impossible for the SZWF to enforce it by itself.

Traditional ideas die hard

"To set up an institution capable of enforcing the law, we have to cooperate with different government departments like the financial bureau, the auditing bureau and the human resource department, who may not understand the point of assuring gender equality, as so many people consider it less important than economic matters," Cai told the Global Times.

Cai started to have concerns when the Standing Committee refused to back a provision suggesting flexible retirement ages for female employees.

"The policy stating that women have to retire at 55 while men can retire at 60 is discriminatory, it effectively reduces the chances of women getting promoted while in their 40s," Wang Xingjuan, director of the Maple Women's Psychological Counseling Center in Beijing, told the Global Times.

The survey by the SZWF last year showed that 50 percent of women experienced unequal treatment in terms of promotions, mostly because of their age.

"I just finished my PhD last year, but I still wasn't promoted to program coordinator in the department," said a female professor surnamed Lin, 45, one of Wang's clients.

One responsibility of the gender equality institution is to assess the gender equality of every policy and if necessary, change them. "But our first attempts have failed," said Cai.

Another provision suggesting that male workers should have a 10-day vacation to spend time with new babies was also deleted by the legislature of Shenzhen, because the vacation time might have had a "negative effect on the economy," the legislators said.

Low levels of public awareness also pose a problem. Some women, such as Yang, when being told they can't have a baby in the next five years, feel somehow discriminated against.

"But they are not sure and don't know how to protect their rights," Cai said.

"There are still many different levels of understanding of the term, which makes the definition ambiguous. People will have more awareness of gender equality if they dig deeper into this field of knowledge," Song Jialun, an expert with the Beijing Gender Health Education Institute, told the Global Times.

But Wang sees a ray of hope.

"Twenty years ago, a woman who worked for 13 years could not get an apartment, but a man who had only worked for one year could. Now we are talking about laws to promote gender equality," she said.

Chinese you need:

Inappropriate不合适的 (bù hé shì de)
Discrimination歧视 (qí shì)
Survey调查 (diào chá)
Equality平等 (píng děng)
Gender性别 (xìng bié)
Enforce执行 (zhí xíng)
Ratio比例 (bǐ lì)
Verbal口头的 (kǒu tóu de)
Victim受害人 (shòu hài rén)
Effectiveness有效 (yǒu xiào)
Auditing审计 (shěn jì)
Retirement退休 (tuì xiū)
Promotion晋升 (jìn shēng)
Vocation假期 (jià qī)
Awareness认知 (rèn zhī)

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