China’s shift from a planned to a market has lifted millions out of poverty, but for many women the deal has been a bad one, says Beijing-based journalist Zhang Lijia, author of Lotus: A Novel on prostitution in China at Sea Globe.
Zhang pointed to figures released by the UN in 2015 that reveal a growing income gap between men and women in post-Mao China. The report found that between 1990 and 2010, average urban income for women as a percentage of that of men had dropped from 77.5% to 67.3%. For women outside the major cities, the figure was as low as 56%.
“When China shifted from the planned economy to the market economy, women shouldered too much of the burden and cost,” Zhang said. “When the state-owned enterprises laid off workers, women were always the first to be let off. And it is much harder for middle-aged women to find re-employment.”
Zhang also pointed to a resurgence in pre-Maoist values that ascribed strict limits to the role – and value – of women in Chinese society.
“I think some of the old attitudes towards women, which place women as inferior to men, resurfaced,” she said. “At workplaces, Mao-style gender equality has been replaced by open sexism… Sometimes they refuse to hire women of a child-bearing age or sack them after they become pregnant.”
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