The party under Xi Jinping then stepped up its duty as “wives and mothers” to face demographic challenges
On July 1, as Xi Jinping spoke in Tiananmen Square to a carefully chosen audience on the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party, the state television camera circled the guests of honor seated near from the pulpit. The most attentive may have noticed an under-represented category: women.
It is not a coincidence. The latest population census, released in May by China’s National Bureau of Statistics, showed that women make up 48.76 percent of the population, or about 688.44 million of that country’s 1.4 billion people. Asian. The representation of women in the Communist Party is, however, significantly lower. Data compiled in 2019 shows that only 27.9% of members are women – and that number tends to be lower as the position grows.
Among the delegates of the National People’s Congress and members of the Chinese People’s Consultative Conference, the highest levels of the country’s legislative structure, only one-fifth are women. In the 25-member Politburo, there is only one – Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chunlan – and since the founding of the Communist Republic in 1949, no woman has been chosen to occupy any of the seven seats on the Politburo Standing Committee. , the top of the bureaucratic hierarchy.
Even if the party itself mentions among its priorities the need to recruit more women and that the government sets a quota of 10% in executive positions at the local level (municipalities, departments, cities and provinces), the objective is rarely achieved.
Expert on the structure of the Chinese Communist Party and consultant on Chinese affairs within the Eurasia Group, Neil Thomas affirms that the current figures represent an improvement, since in 1998, women represented only 16.6% of the members. He says there is an “institutionalized preference” for male leaders and a growing focus on women fulfilling “traditional gender roles and becoming wives and mothers, thus helping to address demographic challenges that could threaten stability. from the country”.
“You cannot publicly question party policy, and it becomes more and more difficult, even in internal meetings. So if you are a woman, there is an added level of pressure to comply with laws and regulations that encourage having more children and being more responsible for childcare and household chores, ”says Thomas.
The current situation contrasts with the time when the Chinese Communist Party was founded in 1921. Initiated at Peking University, the anti-imperialist movement demanded a firmer stance from the nationalists in the fight against the invading Japanese troops. and by rejecting the terms of the Treaty of Versailles which kept the country’s remnants in the hands of foreign forces. Around this time, the students joined the protesters for political participation and were then co-opted to form the party that would emerge two years later.
However, the coming to power of Mao Tse-tung in 1949 and the emphasis on class issues would distract the party from its historic goal of achieving gender equality in China, explains Zheng Wang, professor of studies. gender at the University of Michigan and author of the book. “Finding Women in the State: A Socialist Feminist Revolution in the People’s Republic of China” (Finding Women in the State: A Socialist Feminist Revolution in the People’s Republic of China, unpublished in Brazil).
Zheng says that after the end of the Civil War and the victory of the Communists, most of the legend came from the countryside, where traditional and patriarchal values were still very much alive. It was the men who fought in the conflict who were the first to occupy more important positions in the state structure, and with Mao’s ideological rise, the feminist agenda was pushed aside.
“In the early days of Communist China, these feminists were able to implement a series of laws and policies to promote the rights and interests of women. This created enormous social progress for Chinese women, but from 1964 Mao decided to devote himself to the class struggle. Gender equity was then lost, ”Zheng explains.
From then on – and especially after the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 – feminists were qualified as “bourgeois enemies” and were losing ground. The National Federation of Women of China, until then one of the most important forums to fight against women’s agendas, has cut contact with independent feminist groups and has become increasingly state dominated.
Mao died in 1976 and with him the Cultural Revolution came to an end. China will experience a long period of political reform and economic opening from 1978, but now the problem is different: practically prevented from continuing to militate, the first wave of feminists of the revolution is aging and failing to renew its cadres .
“Some [feministas] they resumed their duties, but this did not last long, as they had already reached retirement age. So many of these women who adhered to women’s liberation, who escaped arranged marriages and domestic violence, no longer had successors, ”Zheng recalls.
The professor also claims that economic reforms and the partial abandonment of the planned economy have imported into China the gender inequalities typical of capitalism, creating wage disparities and favoring men, instead of women, in managerial positions. All of this, she explains, impacts the low representation of women in the spheres of power, a situation that has become more complicated under the Xi government.
“Xi was the first party leader who dared to say that ‘the role of women in the family is very important, it is the woman’s responsibility to take care of the elderly and the family.’ No former Communist leader, however sexist and patriarchal, has dared to make such an overtly sexist speech. Because they knew it was politically incorrect, ”she said, noting that the party texts reinforced“ all those Confucian gender norms, which are already over a thousand years old and emphasize the role of the virtuous wife and mother ”.
For Melissa Cambuhy, professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), “being in socialism does not mean overcoming the contradictions of gender and race”. She affirms that women were at the heart of the Chinese revolution, but “only the political struggle will bring about change, because a priori the power remains with the men”.
“Xi is still a man, despite being a leader, despite socialism. There is something idealized about what socialism would become, as if it were a paradise, and it is not. Socialism is a historical process in which the class struggle continues, both against billionaires and also with regard to gender and political power.