Chinese women have yet to truly hold up half our sky
Published: Mar 17, 2016 05:58 PM Updated: Mar 18, 2016 07:58 AM

Illustrations: Chen Xia/GT

It seems that in any country in the world, whenever a certain day is set aside for a specific group, we can assume that they are discriminated against. Sadly this is especially true about International Women's Day, when all those flowers and boxes of candies given to female employees by their bosses are less a show of appreciation and more of an offering of condolences.

How truly unfortunate it is that out of 365 days of the year, women get only one. Since there is no globally recognized International Men's Day, we are left to presume that every other day except March 8 is a man's day.

When Anhui Province announced last month that their government would enact new legislation allowing female employees to take two days off when suffering menstrual cramps, the news made national headlines. Aside from my belief that every province should already have this law on the books, the "bloody fact" about this legislation is that forcing Chinese companies to give women paid leave during their period is only going to result in more discriminatory hiring practices.

Most multinational companies have teams of lawyers to advise them on worker's rights. But businesses also use these same methods to weed out unfavorable female employees prior to hiring them.

During the interview process, for instance, an HR rep will engage a female candidate in seemingly innocuous chitchat about her marital status, her family, her long-term plans and even her opinions on China's micro and macro policies. But trust me, there's nothing casual about these questions; they will be applied to the candidate's "profiling" to determine if she is going to be causing any future disruptions at the company, e.g. paid maternity leave.

After China's new two-child family planning policy was announced at the beginning of this year in order to kick-start China's rapidly dwindling population, international media outlets predicted that it would be a failure because most Chinese families, especially urban parents, can barely afford raising one child let alone two.

To combat this ominous forecast, Shanghai immediately implemented additional legislation that extended the former 98-day paid maternity leave to 128 days. Once again, our government thought they were doing females a favor, but the reality is that this just gives companies even more of a reason to not hire women.

Amit Midha, president of Dell Asia Pacific and Japan Region, told the HeForShe Conference organized by AmCham Shanghai in February that the only way to truly liberate women from the confines of their workplace is technology. By establishing online interoffice platforms as well as more flexible work hours, women will better be able to balance family life with their careers without burdening their employers.

Women account for nearly half of China's labor force, but the current percentage of female executives is disappointingly low. According to Jason Chen, chairman of the partnership board of Grant Thornton China, the proportion of the top jobs in business held by women has barely increased, from 19 percent in 2004 to only 22 percent in 2015, and never higher than 24 percent.

The British Embassy in China recently announced that rather than just celebrating one single day for women, it would be using the entire month of March to promote "women care" and encourage females to "be yourself." On March 18, the British Consulate General in Shanghai will organize a seminar and film-viewing event with diplomats, psychologists, celebrities and activists invited to discuss and solve gender inequality. I myself look forward to attending this event.

It was once said that in China women hold up half the sky, but in practice this is not necessarily so. It will require more initiative from our government and business leaders, including establishing - and enforcing - policies that empower women for our future, and promote gender equality in both the workplace and society at large, before we truly will be able to touch that sky.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.