China’s ruling Communist Party is facing a national emergency. To fix this, the party wants more women to have more children.
It has offered them sweeteners like cheap housing, tax benefits and cash. It also called for patriotism and called on them to become “good wives and mothers”.
The efforts are not working. Chinese women are turning away from marriage and children at such a rapid rate that China’s population declined for the second year in a row in 2023, prompting the government to realize the threat to the country’s rapidly growing population and its economic future.
China said on Wednesday that 9.02 million babies were born in 2023, down from 9.56 million in 2022 and the seventh consecutive year the number has fallen. Including the number of people who died during the year – 11.1 million – China has more elderly people than anywhere else in the world, a number that is growing rapidly. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, China’s total population at the end of 2023 was 1,409,670,000.
The declining and aging population is worrying Beijing because it is causing China to lack the working-age people needed to power the economy. The demographic crisis, which arrived sooner than almost anyone expected, is putting pressure on already weak and inadequate health care and pension systems.
China intensified the problem with its one-child policy, which pushed the birth rate down for three decades. The rule also created generations of single-child young girls who were given opportunities for education and employment – a group that turned into empowered women who now see Beijing’s efforts as pushing them back into the home.
China’s top leader Xi Jinping has long talked about the need for women to return to more traditional roles in the home. She recently urged government officials to promote “a culture of marriage and childbearing” and influence young people’s thinking about “love and marriage, reproduction and family.”
But experts said the efforts made no effort to address a reality that shaped women’s views about parenting: deeply entrenched gender inequality. Laws that are meant to protect women and their property and ensure that they are treated equally have failed.
“Women in our country are still not confident about having children,” said Rachel Chen, a social media professional from the southern province of Guangdong. Ms Chen, 33, has been married for five years and said she had no intention of having children.
He said, “It seems that the government’s birth policy is only aimed at having children, but it does not protect the person giving birth to the child.” “It does not protect women’s rights and interests.”
Propaganda campaigns and state-sponsored dating programs motivate young people to marry and have children. It is unusual for unmarried couples or single individuals to have children in China. State media are full of calls for China’s youth to play a role in “rejuvenating the nation.”
This message has got across to parents, many of whom already share traditional views about marriage. Ms. Chen’s parents sometimes become so upset over her decision not to have children that they cry on the phone. They tell him, “We are no longer your parents.”
Women in China today have a better awareness of their rights due to increasing advocacy against sexual harassment and workplace discrimination. Authorities have tried to silence China’s feminist movement, but its views on equality remain widespread.
“During these past 10 years, a large community of feminists has formed through the Internet,” said Chinese women’s rights activist Zheng Churan, who was detained with four other activists on the eve of International Women’s Day in 2015. Was. “Women are more empowered today,” Ms Zheng said.
Censorship has silenced much of the debate on women’s issues, sometimes slowing public discussion of sexual discrimination, harassment or gender-based violence. Yet women are able to share their experiences online and provide support to victims, Ms Zheng said.
On paper, China has laws promoting gender equality. For example, employment discrimination based on sex, race, or ethnicity is illegal. In practice, companies advertise for male candidates and discriminate against female employees, said Guo Jing, an activist who helps provide legal aid to women who face workplace discrimination and sexual harassment.
“In some ways, women are more aware of gender inequality in every walk of life,” Ms Guo said. “It is still difficult for women to get justice, even in court.” In 2014, she sued Dongfang Cooking Training School, a government-owned company, after she was told not to apply for a job because she was a woman. She won, but was only given $300 in compensation.
A recent increase in shocking social media postings and news articles about acts of violence against women have captured the nation’s attention, such as the brutal beating of several women at a restaurant in Tangshan and the story of a mother of eight who was found chained Went. The wall of a hut.
Women often cite such violent acts when discussing why they do not want to marry. Changes in policies and regulations, such as a new rule requiring a 30-day cooling-off period before a civil divorce can be finalized, is another change. The marriage rate has been falling for the last nine years. According to government data, this trend, which was once limited to most cities, has now spread to rural areas as well.
Another reason why women say they do not want to get married is because if the divorce case is fought in court it becomes difficult to win.
An analysis of nearly 150,000 court decisions on divorce cases by Indiana University professor Ethan Michelson showed that 40 percent of petitions filed by women were rejected by a judge, often when there was evidence of domestic violence.
“On the surface, from Xi’s own mouth, there have been a lot of strong signals that the family is the foundation of Chinese society and that family stability is the foundation of social stability and national development,” Mr Michelson said. “There is no doubt that these signals have strengthened the judges’ instincts,” he said.
Popular sayings online – such as “a license to marry has become a license to assault,” or worse – are reinforced by news reports. One of several similar cases last summer was a woman in the northwestern province of Gansu. rejected Divorce petition despite evidence of domestic abuse; A judge said the couple needed to stay together for the sake of their children. Another woman murdered by her husband in the southern city of Guangzhou during 30 day divorce cooling-off period.
In 2011, the Supreme People’s Court ruled that family homes would no longer be divided in divorce, but would instead go to the person whose name was on the deed – a finding that favored the men.
“That decision really horrified a lot of women in China,” said Leta Hong Fincher, author of “Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China.”
That feeling of panic has not gone away.
“Instead of more care and protection, mothers become more vulnerable to abuse and isolation,” said Alger Yang, a 24-year-old journalist from Shanghai.
The government’s policies are meant to lure women into marriage, he added, adding, “I even think it’s a trap.”