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Leaving the Glass Ceiling Behind; By Asma Masood

Updated: Feb 1, 2023

Image Courtesy:China Business Review

C3S Paper No. 0117/2016

Courtesy: Vidura, a journal of the Press Institute of India, July-September 2016 Volume 8 Issue 3. 

Ages have passed since the tender feet of little girls in China were compressed into narrow shoes, and though women in that country are still struggling within the narrow walls of societal pressures, there’s a determination among them to progress. Asma Masood reports, buoyed by her recent visit to Beijing. 

Women in China seem at first sight to have broken the glass ceiling. Ancient traditions of the country have changed considerably; but how far has the glass been left behind?

There was a time in ancient China when girls had to strictly follow a code of conduct from the age of seven. From this tender age, the girl child was indoctrinated into the ‘three obediences’ and ‘four virtues’. The obediences required a woman to allow herself to be governed by her father before her marriage, by her husband after marriage and her son if she were to be widowed. Moral discipline, ‘proper’ speech, modest appearance and diligence were the ‘four virtues’ that were inculcated in women. Besides, young girls had to subject themselves to such as foot-binding (to ensure tiny feet) in order to conform to artificial standards of beauty and make themselves attractive to the ‘superior’ gender.

Ages have passed since the tender feet of little girls were compressed into narrow shoes but, still, women in China are struggling within the narrow walls of societal pressures. For instance, women after a certain perceived marriageable age, are dubbed as Sheng Nu or Leftover Women. Women who have acquired PhD degrees are termed Third Gender, on the basis of the perception that they will concentrate more on their careers than on their families. It is unfortunate that such prejudices still exist in the country that is set to be the world’s largest economy.

Economic incentives made China enforce laws that women should be given equal employment opportunity and equal pay. However, employers use certain loopholes, such as removing a majority of female employees during cutbacks, in the name of ‘improving performance’.

Despite such social barriers, women seem to progress in a determined manner in China. For instance, in 2002, China had over 9.88 million women scientists and technicians, making up 39.9 per cent of the total.

The first female astronaut of China, Ling Yang, is a beacon to women. In addition, according to the Shanghai Daily, China ranks second after the USA in the percentage of women CEOs during the past decade. According to Forbes Magazine, 11 of the 20 richest self-made women in the world are Chinese, and now 19 per cent of Chinese women in management positions are CEOs. Interestingly, China has the largest armed forces in the world, where the number of women is about two million. Besides, Chinese women and women-led organisations take active part in international affairs.

The figures are impressive and show that though China may be holding on to certain conservative views on women, women themselves are now ignoring the obstacles in their pursuit of professional, academic and business success. The environment of safety in China is a tremendous catalyst. Chinese women may have only breached the glass ceiling by a few feet, but they are clearly on their way to being one of the leading teams in reaching the ribbon at the finishing line.

(Asma Masood is a Research Officer with the Chennai Centre for China Studies, India. She can be contacted at Twitter:@asmamasood11)

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