Liu Bohong, a professor at China Women's University [Women of China English Monthly]
Early Family Planning Policy and Gender Equality
China introduced its family planning policy in the 1970s. In July 1971, the State Council, China's cabinet, approved and forwarded the Report on Implementing Family Planning Work, which included the population control index, into the national economic development plan for the first time. In September 1980, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) published the Open Letter to All Members of the CPC and the Communist Youth League of China. In that letter, the CPC called on couples to have only one child. In September 1982, during the 12th National Congress of the CPC, the family planning policy became the basic State policy. The policy was written into the Constitution of the People's Republic of China in December that year.
For the past 30-plus years, the family planning policy has effectively stemmed the overly rapid growth of the country's population. China's birth rate, natural population growth rate and women's total fertility rate have decreased dramatically during the past three decades. The policy has also helped change people's attitudes toward marriage, family and childbearing. An increasing number of people have abandoned the traditional Chinese beliefs that people should get married and give birth at an early age, that the more sons, the more blessings, and that women are inferior to men. China's population growth rate is below the growth rate of the country's gross national product (GNP), and that has resulted in great conditions for China to both develop its economy and improve people's lives. In addition to properly controlling population growth, China has developed education and public healthcare to promote the quality of its population, and to enhance the development of Chinese in an all-round way. In the past, rural families usually wanted to have more than one child, despite their poor conditions; however, the more children the family had, the poorer the family became. As such, an unwanted cycle was created. Nowadays, many rural families are breaking that cycle, and they are escaping poverty. The above-stated facts prove that implementing the family planning policy, and developing social economy at the same time, was the correct decision that resulted in benefits to present and future generations.
From a gender perspective, the family planning policy has enhanced Chinese women's status, and it has promoted protection of women's rights and interests. First, women no longer need to give birth many times. As a result, they have fewer burdens in their bodies caused by pregnancy than before, and they also have fewer family burdens than before. So, women have more time and energy to receive an education, find employment and participate in politics and social management. Second, girls, especially those in cities, are able to gain equal rights and development. Third, through publicity of family planning knowledge and implementation of the policy, many Chinese have come to understand the mother does not determine the gender of the fetus. Objectively, that has eased the discrimination and pressure that women suffer for not having a son. To a certain degree, it has also stopped those who demand that women must give birth to a son.
On the other hand, the family planning policy has revealed that the traditional belief that women are inferior to men in Chinese society, families and culture still exists. The evidence is that the gender ratio at birth is seriously imbalanced. The gender ratio at birth refers to the number of boys for every 100 girls. Normally, the gender ratio at birth is 102-107 boys for every 100 girls. Prior to the family planning policy, China's gender ratio at birth was balanced. The third national population census, in 1982, indicated the gender ratio was 108.5 boys for every 100 girls. The fourth national population census, in 1990, indicated the ratio was 111.3 boys for every 100 girls. It was 116.9 males for every 100 females in 2000, and it rose to 118.1 males for every 100 females in 2010. China has the highest gender ratio at birth in the world.
The reasons for the imbalance in the gender ratio at birth are complicated and multisided. The Chinese Government has adopted various strict policies and measures to deal with the problem. However, we have to admit that the problem has overshadowed Chinese women's image of "holding up half the sky." The problem reveals the mechanism established after China's reform and opening up to achieve gender equality has weaknesses, and that there are also imperfections in the rural economic system, as well as in the family and marriage systems.
Dandu Two-child Policy and Gender Equality
To deal with the aging problem, the decreasing labor force and low fertility level, which hindered the coordinated development of China's population, economy and society, the Central Committee of the CPC issued a decision in November 2013 to "allow the couples where at least one parent is an only child to have two children." The policy, aimed at promoting the long-term, balanced development of China's population, was referred to as dandu two-child policy. In December 2013, the Central Committee of the CPC and the State Council released the Opinion on Adjusting and Improving the Family Planning Policy. In 2014, China began implementing the dandu two-child policy.
The adjustment allowed couples where at least one parent was an only child the opportunity to choose to have two children. Some families with one child (regardless of the gender) wanted to have a second child (regardless of the gender) to accompany their first child. Some families with one daughter wanted to have a son.
The gender ratio at birth has changed since the policy adjustment. The National Bureau of Statistics conducted a sample survey, based on one percent of total population, on November 1, 2015. The results of the survey indicated that the gender ratio at birth declined to 113.51 boys for every 100 girls in 2015. It was a dramatic change compared with the seriously imbalanced gender ratio at birth in 2008 — 120.6 boys for every 100 girls.
The dandu two-child policy may result in a balanced gender ratio at birth, but I doubt whether the policy will promote gender equality. I once asked a farmer, in a suburb of Beijing, how many children he wanted to have, and what he preferred the children's gender to be. He answered seriously, "Two children, including a son and a daughter." I asked, "Why?" He replied, "The dowry is too expensive. To find a wife for my son, I must have a daughter." It appears that the gender ratio is balanced, but this kind of thinking and behavior embodies gender inequality.
Universal Two-child Policy and Gender Equality
The dandu two-child policy didn't inspire the desire of young couples to have a second baby, and there was not the baby boom that experts had expected. On October 29, 2015, during the Fifth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, the Chinese Government announced that China would stick to the basic State policy of family planning, improve the population development strategy and allow all couples to have a second child. On December 27, 2015, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress adopted the Amendment to the Population and Family Planning Law of the People's Republic of China. China began implementing the universal two-child policy on January 1, 2016. That was the second adjustment to the policy. The universal two-child policy marked the end of the one-child policy in China.
The universal two-child policy brings new challenges to the realization of gender equality in China. Women suffer gender discrimination in the workforce because they give birth and they have family responsibilities. In many families, women alone shoulder the responsibilities, and the value of women's unpaid household work is not included in the national economic statistics. Child-care services for children under age 6 are insufficient and expensive. The costs of nursing, medical treatments, education, housing and caring for seniors are high. There are unsafe and unhealthy factors in society. Women who have family responsibilities are restricted in terms of personal development, and the relevant laws and policies are imperfect. All of the above-stated factors affect the desire of couples, especially women, to have another baby. Therefore, incorporating gender equality in the universal two-child policy is crucial to promoting the stability and sustainable development of China's population.
Women are no longer baby-making machines, and they know exactly their social and family responsibilities. Women hope their children live in a fair, equal, free and happy society, and women will make unremitting efforts to create such a social environment.
The author is Liu Bohong, a professor at China Women's University.
(Source: Women of China English Monthly January 2017 Issue)
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