A group of women's rights activists in China have launched a campaign to probe sexist recruitment practices as prospective employers launched their spring graduate recruitment drive on campuses around the country.
Nine women have banded together to send freedom of information requests to more than 100 higher education institutions asking for details of action taken against sexist job advertisements.
While a 2013 government directive ordered universities and colleges to delete all gender-specific language from materials used in nationwide recruitment fairs, the activists say the practice is still ubiquitous.
"Gender discrimination is still very common in employment recruitment literature," one of the activists, who gave only a nickname Xiao Xia, told RFA in a recent interview.
"We often see recruitment advertisements on campus that say they are for men only, or that ask recruits about their plans for marriage, having children, or their age," she said.
Rights lawyer Huang Yizhi, who follows gender discrimination issues, said women are protected in a number of Chinese laws against employment discrimination, but that the law is rarely properly implemented.
"The ministry of education has ordered a clean-up of job recruitment adverts, but the necessary measures haven't been put into place, and the adverts are still there," Huang told RFA.
"There are also ways in which gender discrimination isn't visible, but it's still there," she said. "People are still being told at interviews that they won't get the job because of their gender."
"This is because the universities won't do anything to stop it, and it is linked to conditions in the labor market as a whole," Huang said.
"Even if the universities got it right, it wouldn't mean that there would be no gender discrimination elsewhere in the labor market," she said. "The universities are just one area among many that needs looking at."
Raising public awareness
Xiao Xia said she and her fellow activists are hoping to raise public awareness of the issue at the same time.
"There aren't many people who are concerned about university and job opportunities for women, so I hope that we'll raise awareness of the issue through this campaign," Xia said.
"We hope that it will lead to the breaking of the glass ceiling and more opportunities for women," she said.
Meanwhile, the feminist activist group Feminist Faction said on Thursday that its social media accounts had been frozen in recent days.
While content searches for "women's rights" on the Twitter-like service Sina Weibo returned a normal-looking list of search results on Thursday, attempts to register an account containing the words "women's rights" were blocked.
"Your account name contains sensitive words. Please select different words for your account name," the message read.
Xiong Jing, social media editor of the website Gender in China, which contains the words "women's rights" in Chinese, said censors frequently have deleted her group’s posts.
"Our account may not have been deleted, but our posts are often deleted," Xiong told RFA on Thursday. "That's normal."
Reality is very different
The ruling Chinese Communist Party has promoted gender equality, at least in theory, since it came to power in 1949.
But women's and rights campaigners say the reality is very different on the ground and that discrimination still presents major obstacles to equality.
Last year, the authorities detained feminists Li Tingting, Wei Tingting, Wang Man, Zheng Churan and Wu Rongrong, holding them for five weeks on public order charges after they planned a public transport awareness campaign to combat sexual harassment.
The five women, whose detention prompted an international outcry, are still not allowed to leave their hometowns without police approval, and still have the charges hanging over them although their lawyers say they broke no law.
The Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 in Beijing set out a challenging program of improvements to the rights and opportunities offered to women and girls around the world, as well as requiring governments to report back to the United Nations on progress in key areas.
The Beijing Declaration produced by the conference included a pledge to "ensure equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all women and girls."
Reported by Xin Lin and Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.