Sexist Job Ads Rife in China as Women Lose Out in Labor Market

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A model having her body painted by an attendee at northeastern China's Shenyang Auto Show in Shenyang, Liaoning province, July 2, 2017.
A model having her body painted by an attendee at northeastern China's Shenyang Auto Show in Shenyang, Liaoning province, July 2, 2017.

Blatantly sexist recruitment advertising is rife in China, with many companies using sexist tropes with impunity in a labor market that routinely and systematically discriminates against women, rights groups said this week.

"Sexual objectification of women—treating women as a mere object of sexual desire—is prevalent in Chinese job advertising," the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a recent report, citing job postings requiring women with a certain height, weight, voice, or facial type that have nothing to do with the skills needed to do the job.

One job ad for train conductors in Hebei province required female applicants to be between 162 centimeters and 173 centimeters tall and have a bodyweight of below 65 kilograms, HRW said.

Other recruitment posters used the perceived attractiveness of women at a given company as a draw for male applicants.

"Tencent, Baidu, and Alibaba have repeatedly published recruitment ads boasting that there are 'beautiful girls' or 'goddesses' working for the companies," the report said.

"A Tencent male employee is featured stating this is the primary reason he joined Tencent and a Baidu male employee saying it is one reason why he is 'so happy every day' at work," it said.

Meanwhile, Alibaba posted a series of photos of young female employees late at night, describing them as "late night benefits," HRW said.

Chinese women 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.

Recruitment ads specifying a requirement or preference for men are still common, and the proportion of women in the labor market has fallen by 2.5 percentage points in the past decade, HRW said.

And in Hong Kong, the rights group China Labour Bulletin (CLB) said in a report this week that women often have  to score much higher than men in college entrance examinations for certain majors, especially at institutions concerned with the military or police training.

The practice often extends to majors with little relation to gender, such as languages and sciences, CLB said.

"Explanations given by university administrators often amount to nothing more than paternalistic judgments about the roles women are best suited to," it said.

A recent report by the World Economic Forum showed that China’s gender parity ranking in 2017 fell for the ninth consecutive year, leaving China in 100th place out of 144, compared with 57th 10 years ago.

'Men only' ads

According to HRW, 13 percent of job ads for civil service positions specified "men only," "men preferred," or "suitable for men." That proportion rose to 19 percent in 2018. None of the ads called for female applicants.

In the Ministry of Public Security, 55 percent of jobs advertised in 2017 specified “men only,” sometimes citing the need for "high intensity work" with frequent overtime. Job ads that don't exclude women sometimes require female applicants to be married with children, HRW found.

"These job ads reflect traditional and deeply discriminatory views: that women are less physically, intellectually, and psychologically capable than men," the group said.

There is a widespread assumption that women are the main carers for children, making them unsuited to a full-time career, or that they will likely leave a company when the time comes to have a family.

Companies are also keen to avoid the costs associated with maternity leave, it said.

While some women have successfully complained about gender discrimination in recruitment, companies are rarely punished, and fines, when they are handed out, have typically been only in the hundreds of dollars.

U.S.-based rights activist Wang Xueli said China appears to be reversing the progress initially made towards gender equality in the early years of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

"I think we really have seen things regress in terms of employment discrimination in recent years in China," Wang told RFA. "Part of that may be that enterprises have more say in how they are run, but there is a lack of action by the government."

"Jobs are usually labeled in terms of what a man is suited to do, and what a woman is suited to do," she said. "But there is no scientific basis for these labels in the vast majority of cases; it's just the result of long-running social attitudes."

"But the key issue is that women have very little protection, because the majority of leadership and executive positions are held by men," Wang said.

China has a set of laws stemming from the constitution that prohibit gender discrimination in the workplace, not least the 1994 Labour Law.

But the vagueness of the laws and a lack of clear guidelines on their implementation has meant that many courts and arbitration committees refuse to hear employment discrimination cases, according to CLB.

The group called for an equal opportunities commission to oversee the labor market, clearer guidelines from the top, and tougher penalties for organizations that break the rules.

Reported by Wang Yun for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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