China's ruling Communist Party has promoted gender equality since it came to power in 1949—in theory, at least. But women and rights campaigners say the reality is very different on the ground, and that discrimination still presents major obstacles to equality. Beijing-based activist Zheng Churan talks about why she started a long and often frustrating campaign to complain about dozens of companies openly discriminating against women in job advertisements online:
"It is a fundamental policy of our government that there should be equality between men and women, but there are no rules and regulations that specify exactly what form this equality should take, and what will be the consequence if this doesn't happen. So the attitude of a lot of people, and especially commercial enterprises, is that if I don't think I'm discriminating against you, then I'm not discriminating against you."
Zheng, along with fellow activists in Shanghai, Guangzhou and other Chinese cities, reported the Zhilian Jobs Website to authorities in Beijing's Chaoyang district recently, for posting discriminatory recruitment notices submitted by 267 companies. Of those companies, only one was fined by the bureau of industry and commerce in the central city of Wuhan:
"A lot of departments just kicked this around like a football. For example, a lot of the registered addresses for these companies weren't the place where they actually do business, so they said they couldn't find the companies concerned and therefore couldn't investigate. There were even some people who told us that we had no business getting involved if we had no plans to apply for these jobs ourselves. Then government departments would bounce us back and forth between them, while some of the industry and commerce bureaus said that recruitment advertisements didn't count as advertisements under the advertising law, so they had no remit."
Zheng said she and her fellow campaigners had also written letters of complaint directly to more than 500 top Chinese companies, calling on them to take the lead in eliminating gender discrimination from their recruitment practices. Not a single company replied. While the official complaints process barely yielded a result, Zheng said she thought it was a start:
"Some companies were forced to change the way they did things, and the Zhilian Jobs site deleted the posts that had discriminatory content. So we can say that this was a good start on the way to eliminating gender discrimination."
Chinese women say they still face major barriers to finding work in the graduate labor market and fear getting pregnant if they have a job, out of concern their employer will fire them—a common practice despite protection on paper offered by China's Labor Law.
Last September, female students in the southern city of Guangzhou shaved their heads in outrage at gender-based criteria in the highly competitive national university applications process, which sets the threshold for acceptance higher for females than for male applicants.
Reported by Tang Qiwei for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.