Chapter 10: Gender and Equality of Opportunity in China’s Labour Market
Jane Nolan Introduction Since its establishment as China’s legitimate ruling power in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has regarded gender equality as an important component of its overall modernizing agenda (Edwards, 2004). To this end it has introduced a programme of equal opportunities legislation based on the principle that women and men have an equal right to paid work and that ‘women’s liberation from feudalism and patriarchy’ is an important ideological goal. The 1994 Labour Law, for example, states that ‘women and men shall enjoy equal rights with respect to employment; women may not be refused employment because of their sex’ and furthermore, ‘equal pay shall be given for equal work’. However, the enforcement of gender equality legislation has been noticeably weak and this has raised questions about the depth and sincerity of political will. Since economic reform began in 1978, women have faced growing discrimination as the official discourse of equality increasingly conflicts with the reality of differential treatment in the labour market. Rapid social and economic changes, such as the re-organization of agricultural practices, increasing rural-to-urban migration, and the loss of the security provided by the old work-based welfare system (the so-called ‘iron rice bowl’), have changed women’s lives in profound ways. Often women are the first to face redundancy and many are compelled to take work in precarious, unregulated sectors of the labour market where both their physical and psychological well-being is at risk (UNRISD, 2005). Yet China still has one of the world’s highest levels...
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