At the height of Chinese power, where are the women?

At the height of Chinese power, where are the women?

Largely represented in the working population, Chinese women remain largely absent from the highest levels of the Communist Party and the government. They are the main absentees from the reshuffle announced on October 23, 2022 by the Communist Party, and their situation in the upper echelons even seems to be worsening, since the all-powerful Standing Committee of the Politburo – the decision-making body of the CCP – does not matters more than men.

Decline of women in the Central Committee

In the Central Committee, the “party parliament”, the percentage of women has fallen: it has fallen from 5.4% to 4.9%, with only 11 women out of 205 members. As for the Standing Committee, nothing changes. The group of seven people who hold the reins of power are still all men.

“Women continue to be severely underrepresented at the top of Chinese politics”, laments the specialized newsletter Neican China. “For the record, women represent 48.8% of the Chinese population and 29.4% of the members of the Communist Party”, she underlines.

Sun Chunlan, the “iron lady”: an exception

The only woman present so far in the Politburo, which has 25 members, Sun Chunlan has just retired at the age of 72. Deputy Prime Minister in charge of health policies, Sun Chunlan was regularly sent to inspect cities facing epidemic rebounds. Former party leader in the eastern coastal province of Fujian and the city of Tianjin, near Beijing, she was nicknamed the “iron lady” because of the strict measures she ordered on her way. .

But Sun Chunlan remained an exception in Chinese politics, dominated by networks of male camaraderie and entrenched sexism that often cut short promising careers, note several analysts.

Since 1948, the Political Bureau of the CCP has only admitted eight women into its ranks, of which only three have reached the post of Deputy Prime Minister. Media and observers hoped that Sun Chunlan would be replaced by another woman. Either Shen Yueyue, leader of the Federation of Chinese Women, or Shen Yiqin, leader of the party in the province of Guizhou (south).

But no women were promoted.

“Half the sky” … but not the political office

It seems a long way from the slogan proclaimed in the 1950s by the founder of the Mao Tse-tung regime, who ruled China from 1949 to 1976: “Women carry half the sky”.

“I don’t see how women are supposed to ‘carry half the sky’ in China if they are not allowed to be in the Politburo,” wondered on Twitter Jacob Gunteranalyst at the Mercator Institute for Chinese Studies (Merics).

For Minglu Chen, a professor at the University of Sydney, “the Chinese Communist Party’s commitment to women’s rights is more of a commitment to improving their economic rights. The idea of ​​the party is for women to join the world of work“, she says. But in a society that is still very conservative, this step is already difficult to take: “Many women say they find it difficult to combine the roles of good mother, wife and employee“, notes the university.

Workers marching in China, January 25, 1967. Some wear a Red Guards armband.

The vicious circle of discrimination

To progress in one’s career, particularly in politics, one must also often go through moments of socialization, especially during drunken meals where the atmosphere is essentially masculine. Starting with Xi Jinping’s entourage. “Most of Xi’s former male colleagues in Zhejiang and Fujian provinces now in Politburo“, observes Victor Shih, professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego.

If the quotas had been strictly applied, we would begin to see the results… The current situation is also the result of the domination of a single party.
Minglu Chen, professor at the University of Sydney

However, none of his female ex-colleagues managed to enter the Political Bureau, or even obtain leadership positions at the provincial level.deplores the university. Discrimination at the lowest levels prevents obtaining later higher positions“, emphasizes Victor Shih.

Quotas, but no control

China has, of course, implemented in 2001 a quota system requiring the presence of at least one woman at all levels of government and party, except the Politburo. But for lack of control mechanism, it is not really respected. “If a better quota system had been put in place and strictly enforced, then we would start to see the fruits of it.“, believes Minglu Chen. The current situation “is also the result of one-party dominance“, she believes.