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China’s women at the crossroads - UN experts

GENEVA (24 December 2013) – The UN Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice found that China had made remarkable strides in improving women’s lives, but that there was insufficient implementation of relevant laws, and more action was needed to ensure women’s full participation in economic and political spheres.

As the country faces unprecedented challenges in an increasingly aging and mobile society and in a highly competitive market economy, China's women are at an historical crossroad between bearing the disproportionate burden of care and being equal decision makers in China's new path of deepening reforms.

The Working Group undertook its first visit to the People’s Republic of China from 12 to 19 December 2013 to assess the progress made towards achieving gender equality and the protection and promotion of women’s human rights in particular in women’s economic and social life.

“A framework of law and policy has been put into place to eliminate discrimination against women,” Working Group Chairperson Frances Raday said, “but there remain persistent discriminatory practices, stereotypes and insufficient implementation of the laws.”

China has exceeded the 2015 Millennium Development Goals in increasing the level of education for girls and in reducing maternal mortality. However, the women of China still lag behind men in political and economic participation. The Working Group called for a comprehensive gender policy to be integrated into the agenda for reform at the Third Plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, and for women’s full and effective participation in the design and implementation of China’s macro-economic policies. It emphasized that urgent action is necessary to ensure the equal participation of women in top decision-making bodies, including by the use of temporary special measures.

“There is an increased need in the new market economy to ensure women's equal opportunity to be employed in decent work in the formal labour market, equal access to housing, land, credit, government procurement and tertiary education,” Raday said.

“The Working Group calls upon the Government to further examine the impact of a transition to a market economy on women and improve ways to achieve this transition without sacrificing decent work and living conditions, social protection floors and health services. Women’s full and effective participation in the design and implementation of macro-economic polices is essential to achieve these ends.”

The Working Group cited discrimination against women in recruitment, wages and dismissals, particularly on the grounds of maternity. While welcoming the introduction of paid maternity leave, it called on the Government to take action to help reduce income inequalities and to extend protection to the informal labour market, which employs a large number of women.

“We recommend that men should be encouraged to share the care burden, including by the introduction of an improved paternity leave. Other solutions include establishment of state-funded care institutions for the elderly and for children from lower and middle-income families, provision of domestic and care services for communities and support for provision of care by grandparents.”

The Working Group commended the Government on its introduction of a system of universal non-contributory pensions. It recommended that this should be retained as a basic right even after the move to contributory pensions, as women are disadvantaged in the accumulation of contributory pension benefits because of lower incomes and interrupted career patterns.

On violence against women, the Working Group expressed hope that the drafting of a comprehensive law which would include all forms of violence against women and girls should increase the availability and quality of support services, such as shelters, legal aid and medical services, which are currently insufficient. Training and capacity building was also required to increase the gender responsiveness of judges, prosecutors, police and lawyers.

The Working Group stressed the important role of civil society organisations in helping eliminate discrimination against women.

“China’s capacity to address the challenge of eliminating discrimination against women depends on the free flow of information and on open democratic debate,” Ms. Chandrakirana said. “We commend the Government’s growing openness to civil society organisations and call on the Government to provide guarantees for freedom of speech, expression and assembly for all, including for women who are defending their rights and interests on an individual basis or through collective action. We are however, concerned about reports of repressive measures taken against dissenting voices.”

Following its visit, the Working Group will present a report with its conclusions and recommendations to the 26th session of the UN Human Rights Council in June 2014.

ENDS

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