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Women try to hold up half the political sky

Updated: 2013-03-08 07:06
By Tang Yue, Zhu Zhe, Zhao Shengnan and He Wei ( China Daily)

Women try to hold up half the political sky

1. Chen Jiwa, chair of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference of Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. 2. Huang Liman, vice-chair of the NPC's Overseas Chinese Affairs Committee. 3. Wang Lixia, deputy governor of Shaanxi province. 4. Qiao Chuanxiu, CPPCC chair for Zhejiang province. 5. Li Bin, governor of Anhui province. 6. Yin Yicui, chair of the Standing Committee of the Shanghai Municipal People's Congress. 7. Zhang Xuan, chair of the Standing Committee of the Chongqing Municipal People's Congress. Photos by Wu Zhiyi, Zou Hong, Feng Yongbin, Zhu Xingxin and Xu Jingxing / China Daily

Women try to hold up half the political sky

Despite inroads, females still have a journey to complete, report Tang Yue, Zhu Zhe, Zhao Shengnan and He Wei in Beijing.

When Fu Ying took questions from the media at the opening session of the 12th National People's Congress on Monday, the first spokeswoman in the history of China's top legislative body stole the limelight with her intellectual demeanor and elegance.

By stepping onto the stage, Fu highlighted the growing presence of women in the country's political life, but China still has a long way to go until gender parity is realized in the elite political sphere that is traditionally a male preserve, according to female delegates and experts.

"You can see a growing number of female officials and legislators in China," said Wang Lixia, deputy governor of Shaanxi province and a deputy to the NPC.

Wang was the exception that proved the rule when she joined a group of male deputies for a discussion during the NPC.

Wang, who holds a doctorate in economics, took up her post in the resource-rich northwestern province in January, joining a mere handful of women at ministerial level in China. "We women cherish opportunities such as these and are making great efforts to perform our duties and win respect from society," she said.

This year, the NPC, the most important annual event in China's political calendar, has 699 female delegates, accounting for 23 percent of the total 2,987. The number of female participants has risen by 62 from the group elected for a five-year term in 2008, while the number of delegates remains unchanged.

However, the number of female deputies is still far below the 30 percent mark proposed for legislatures worldwide by the United Nations at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995.

In the world rankings of the proportion of women in legislative bodies, China slipped 13 places, from 42nd in 2005 to 56th in 2009.

However, the country had already moved to address the imbalance. In 2008, a regulation was introduced stating that the proportion of females in the legislature must be higher than 22 percent.

Rong Weiyi, a researcher with the Women's Studies Institute of China, said men and women are equal in China, legally speaking, but to achieve that nominal equality in everyday life, a greater number of women need to participate in politics.

"The example of one woman could be overlooked, but how about 10 women, 20, or even more? What if half of the members of the national legislature were female, and they all appealed for women's rights? Their voice could not be ignored," said Rong.

"That's why we first need a considerable number of women to participate in politics."

In addition to the rising number of female delegates, another positive note is that the presence of female officials is more tangible nowadays. Women are no longer simply playing a walk-on role for the sake of political correctness, said Yin Yicui, newly elected chairwoman of the Standing Committee of the Shanghai Municipal People's Congress.

"Ensuring representation used to be compulsory, or a 'must-do', so governments tended to set quotas by increasing the number of women on governing bodies such as Party committees, local legislatures and government agencies," said Yin, who is also a delegate to this year's NPC.

But the situation has changed from an artificial arrangement and is now closer to a level playing field, she noted.

"Now you see people competing, irrespective of gender, and it's become commonplace to have two or more female politicians in the same office," she said.

Greater equality of educational opportunities has provided a crucial avenue by which female participation in Chinese politics and government has been greatly strengthened.

Education can empower women and break stereotypical assumptions that they should stay away from politics and its traditional notions of masculinity, and stick to their private sphere, which is closely associated with the family, said Yin.

Song Yuying, a deputy to the ongoing Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's top advisory body, was cautiously optimistic.

"The political status of women in China has risen in recent decades and we have been given a lot of opportunities, otherwise we wouldn't be here," she said.

"But, have all the problems been solved? No, not really. At the local government level, it's like 'mission accomplished' when there is one female cadre. But why not two or three, as long as they are qualified?"

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