Bangkok, Thailand - China may be the last big country standing in this period of global financial meltdown, even as much of its production would have explored new markets and consumers. With increasing and also alarming interests in Africa and other places in the developing world, the dragon in China is indeed in a resurgence in a scale that has never been seen before. But much remains to be seen in the public eye as well within China: How is its environment? How is its land? How is its people?

Wang Zhuqing of the Centre for Public Policy and Law Study asserted that while China’s rapid development may have been an economic boon, the process has intensified old and surfaced new problems for women in the provinces and cities.

Although women make up nearly 40 percent of China’s 1 billion population, most have yet to have access to resources equal to their male counterparts. In the 2005 purposive survey of the National Female Association, for instance, 70 per cent of landless individuals are women. Of these 43.8 per cent lost their lands through marriages, almost 1 per cent after their divorce while 26.3 per cent have never owned any land.

Cultural tradition remains the primary reason for the dispossession of women of vital assets such as land. Marriage requires women to surrender their lands to their husbands while unmarried women are hardly entitled any landholding. Meanwhile, divorced women and widows surrender their lands to their villages. Migration and cross-marriages likewise have an impact on a woman’s land ownership, as this can dispossess a rural woman who is set to marry a man from the city.

Industrial expansion due to economic growth has not necessarily helped. In some cases, it even aggravated the poverty of farmers and their land conflicts, which can easily dispossess more women.

As Zhuqing explained, “Along with the development of the economy, the urbanisation has been accelerating at its fastest speed. The compensation for the land taken has become the most important income for farmers. The land is limited, and so is the compensation. In the process of economic conflicts, it is always women who are being sacrificed. Further, the phenomenon of women discriminating against other women and women harming other women is heartbreaking. In the case of married women’s land rights in Anhui Tong city that we dealt with, many of the leaders of villager groups that lead villages to go to Court are females.”

Meanwhile, employment opportunities in the cities have encouraged more people from the rural areas to migrate. But such decision has a huge cost on them, including young and female workers. As China is made of hu kous or districts with distinct social security services, a worker who migrates to another hu kou would not be able to access the same benefits as the original residents of that hu kou. She is also likely to experience discrimination in the workplace.

There are two types of workers in China: the cadre and the worker or simply put, the skilled and unskilled. The retirement age for male cadres and workers is currently pegged at 60. But the retirement age varies for women, for cadres, 55 and workers, 50. Some female cadres are also forced to retire at 50 for the reason that they entered the work force as workers, notwithstanding the progress they have made over the years. Private interests play a role as well. Mature women with higher-than-average income are replaced by children of government officials or people close to the government.

“The harmony and progress of the human society inevitably require gender equality with the enthusiasm and creativity of both men and women being given full play to build a social mode in line with human-based development. In this process, laws should play a positive role in guiding people’s concepts, and the mandatory nature of laws will make such guidance the most powerful among all elements to divert negative traditions,” she pointed out.

Zhuqing was among the participants in the three-week course on globalisation and social transformation, organised by Focus on the Global South from 3 to 21 November 2008 in Bangkok, Thailand.

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