The obstacles standing against women’s equal access to economic resources are numerous. As nations all over the world embrace the spirt of the Beijing Conference; examining new methods that increase equal opportunities for women. I feel that in light of this positive progress. I wish to explore how China, the conference’s host nation, has improved women’s access to economic resources through the lens of property rights and access to meaningful employment.
No one can deny that China’s 30 years of economic growth has proven to be a positive factor towards both men and women. Economic development has allowed for greater access to resources. This has pulled millions out of poverty, and given average Chinese citizens opportunities they never had before. However, women still face discrimination and hardships when compared to their male counterparts. In regards to land and property ownership, the state ultimately owns the land but allows citizens to rent parcels. Land reforms have allowed women the right to rent land which was illegal before the Communist takeover. However, once married it becomes difficult for women to “retain their natal shares after marriage, and they have no land shares in their marital home”[i]. So, once a women gets married it is uncommon for her to gain land from her husband’s family, and if divorced she looses land use rights to their husband. The situation for women in the cities is not much better. The right to lease property is extended to both men and women. However, divorce throws a wrench into a women’s right to property. A study found that 80% of marital homes are owned or co-owned by men. Only 30% of lease deeds include a women’s name[ii]. Therefore, if a woman becomes divorced she looses the leased property. A piece of property she probably helped pay for due to China’s ever increasing house prices.
Besides issues concerning divorce and property rights, Chinese women also face constant workplace discrimination. China’s gender-biased hiring practices are well known, for allowing companies to hire only men, and exclude female candidates. These unfair practices not only cut out qualified female candidates, therefore decreasing their access to economic resources, but goes against Chinese equality laws. According data from the Third Chinese Women’s Social Status Investigation, 72% of surveyed women perceived they had not been hired or promoted because of their gender[iii]. Even if women are able to find gainful employment they only earn .67 RMB for every 1 RMB a man earns. The difficulty finding work and the lack of equal pay disadvantages women from achieving their full economic potential, and therefore they cannot effectively contribute to China’s overall wealth.
On paper, Chinese laws enshrine gender equality. Nevertheless, the realities point to a darker picture. Difficulties in finding work, receiving meaningful pay, meaningful promotion opportunities, and then facing uncertainty over property rights. Create a situation where Chinese women are unable to fully utilize resources their skills for the betterment of themselves and their country. Progress has been made, but the government should do more to break the age old pattern of gender discrimination prevalent in many Asian societies. So China can fully live up to the promises made in Beijing, 20 years ago.