Mao Zedong may be getting a lot of flak for the ghastly Cultural Revolution but a new study says the gender equality he decreed has propelled China to first place in Asia in terms of women in senior management.
While Confucian-informed patriarchal hierarchy has been an impediment to women’s leadership at the workplace in many Asian nations, China seems to have licked the problem, said the joint study by Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and the New York-based Asia Society.
"In China, the heritage of Mao Zedong’s 'Women hold up half the sky'—a view of women as a resource that ought to be deployed outside the home—fueled the rise of many women in professional fields," said the report, entitled "Rising to the Top? A Report on Women’s Leadership in Asia."
As a result, Chinese women, who make up 49 percent of the population and 46 percent of the labor force, have achieved a higher proportion in the top layers of management than women in many Western countries, said the report which mostly analyzed data on gender equality and women’s leadership in the region.
"In China, gender equality embedded in communist ideology has mitigated the impact of Confucian patriarchy," it said.
Mao left behind gender parity as one of the good legacies of communism in China—unlike his 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution, in which millions were persecuted across the country—as he launched a campaign to get women to work outside the home.
The study said that in East Asia, "China leads in terms of women in senior management."
During China’s economic reform period, communist values met the capitalist market system and a flexible business environment became the norm, it said.
"In this context, Chinese businesswomen started to thrive."
Some 29 million, a quarter of the national total of China’s entrepreneurs, are female, the report said. The highest percentages of women employed in Asia are also in China.
Half of the 14 billionaires on Forbes magazine’s 2011 list of the world’s richest self-made women are from mainland China.
Many of them are property magnates; the others focus on retail and consumer goods.
"The pathway for female entrepreneurs tends to lead from excellent universities to high posts at large, state-owned enterprises, allowing women to build up business acumen, managerial skills, and networks that later enable them to raise capital for their new enterprises."
But the report highlighted preferences for male births over female births in China, among other countries.
Such preferences have led to pre-natal sex selection, resulting in the destruction of female fetuses, abandonment and trafficking of young females, forced abortion, and forced sterilization.
"Population control measures, such as China’s one-child policy, may lead to unintended amplification of such aggression and threat to the survival and plight of women and girls in their countries," the report said.
Social norms continue to undervalue girls and women, as evidenced in ongoing sex selection that results in approximately 1.3 million girls not being born per year in China and India alone, according to Astrid Tuminez, Vice-Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, and Vishakha Desai, President of the Asia Society.
"Governments, particularly China and India, can also increase campaigns to end sex selection against baby girls," they said in a joint commentary.
The report also said that women in Asia are closing the gap with males in health, education, and employment, but are severely under-represented at top leadership levels, paid less than men, and disadvantaged by cultural and social norms.
While Asia is experiencing breathtaking economic growth and demographic strength, the region continues to be gripped by deep inequality, endemic poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and other threats, the report said.
"To address these problems, Asia will need all its human talent, including women. Unfortunately, in Asia, leadership remains male-dominated, with few women attaining top positions in the public and private sectors," it said.
Reported by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.