Friday, November 26, 2010

Women's Rights and the Sustenance of Society

The New York Times had a piece yesterday on women in China. This article discussed how Chinese women have made big gains in rights, but have also, with industrialisation, lost rights. Since 1992, there has been a piece of legislation called the Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests, which, since 2005, has made gender equality a state policy, ensuring that women have protection against sexual harassment, discrimination and other such things. For a country not exactly being famous for its policies on human rights, this is quite huge. Women often have to stand aside when human rights are being installed in countries where they have previously been lacking. First universal human rights, and then, if they feel like something can be gained from it, women's rights.

Interesting to note, as the article does, is the huge discrimination women still face in employment, not with regards to their capabilities, which do not seem to be at question here; it is the reproductive possibilities that matter. Young women are being asked in job interviews if they plan on having children soon, and even if they claim that they will not, they are rarely believed.

This is a problem that, at one point or another, every society with stated women's rights that have begun to incorporate women in the work forces has faced. The fear of having to pay for maternal leave and child sick days often discourages companies from hiring women to the same extent as men, because, as we know, the likelihood that the woman will be the one staying at home with sick children and taking out more parental leave than the man, is quite big. Most countries do not even have anything near to equal division of parental leave, so the woman is simply forced to stay at home unless the family has the finances to hire a nanny.

What strikes me as odd, though, is how this is allowed to go on. China is a country with a vast population, and there are policies in place to discourage families from having more than one child, but at some level there has got to be a realisation that if women are discouraged from reproducing altogether, there will be no future citizens. When the pre-restriction generations of people hit the retirement mark, who will be ensuring the running of society then? For every generation, child births are dwindling. Obviously, in a country with such a huge population as China, a restriction on child bearing makes sense, but a complete discouragement? These women are the ones who will be bearing the future men, who seem to be more valued in the work place, and in society in general - China is notorious for its abortion of girl foetuses (see the Economist's article on 'Gendercide' - subscription required). A further discouragement for women to have children, and especially girls - the ratio of boys to girls born is 124 to every 100 - seems like a huge flaw in the planning for a future society. Every year, there are less women to give birth to future citizens and now they are also being discouraged to do so if they also have a need for a job. Combine that with the one-child-policy and there is at some point going to be a huge disparity in people who can work, and those who cannot (mainly retired people).

Women's rights, and in this case reproductive rights specifically, are directly correlated to the sustenance of every society. Women are as much needed as men in carrying forward the society. Unless they have started making artificial wombs, China needs to start reconsidering their acceptance of this kind of discrimination in the workplace.


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