For the first time in 35 years freedom is being restored to women across China. They now have reproductive rights and choices over the number of children they choose to have. This appears to be a social breakthrough but the Chinese government are trying to control society yet again for economic reasons to do with the ageing population.
Last week China abolished its one-child rule. The policy had been introduced in 1980 to prevent a population explosion after a baby boom in the 1970s. The government feared there would not be enough resources for the rising population - increasing by some 55 million a year - and hoped that if the policy was successful, Chinese citizens would have a better standard of living.
The reason for the recent policy U-turn is the ageing population. The government once again wants to balance out society by increasing the birth of babies. But that 1980 decision had other consequences. China also has a gender imbalance which is the largest in the world as a result of baby girls being aborted and killed. This untold story has created a considerable number of males who find themselves without partners.
The government sees this as a ‘frustration’ for the men and it is leading to unrest amongst those in society who can’t find a wife. Because marriage is a status symbol in Chinese culture, the abolition of the one-child policy should reduce this gender imbalance, preventing unhappiness for the future generations.
For the current population, the decision comes too late. When a girl marries in China she leaves her own family and so her parents will not have anyone to depend on as they grow older. For this reason, families are desperate for boys. This has led to inequality and some brutal methods of achieving the desired son. Because males are cherished in China they have gained the reputation of being ‘little emperors’ with doting parents and grandparents who emphasise their value and importance.
However, the laws in rural areas are more lenient because the policy states if married couples have a girl first they can try for a boy and not be penalised. This hidden exception promotes an unequal culture whereby girls are second-class citizens.
So last week’s abolition of the controversial act finally empowers women in China who traditionally are considered less valuable than males.
This shocks many as we class China as modern and developed. Because of the changing laws it will hopefully reform Chinese society’s attitude to women and they will gain more significance and become equal to men. It will also promote the parity of sons and daughters and bring structure to an imbalanced society.
The current film ‘Suffragette’ in the UK demonstrates how far Great Britain has come in tackling discrimination against women. We should be glad to see China following. The issues to do with gender division are still relevant and we have a long way to go striving for equality of the sexes. In China, this must be a positive step.
-- Izzy King is a student at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds