Beijing: The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under President Xi Jinping has abandoned symbolic traditional gestures toward equality and is muscling women away from power.
Johanna Costigan, a junior fellow at the Centre for China Analysis at the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York, writing in Nikkei Asia said that the last month’s 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party broke tradition by elevating 24 men and no women to the party’s Politburo, omitting its usual token female for the first time in 25 years. Women took just 11 of 205 seats on the new party Central Committee.
China’s path toward becoming a modern socialist country, as officials describe their aim, has historically been framed as incorporating gender egalitarianism.
However, loyalty and utility to the top leader, above qualifications or affirmative action-style standards, are now the major determinants of officials’ prospects for promotion.
Party leader Xi Jinping no longer feels any obligation to gesture toward gender equality, said Costigan.
“I never thought the CCP really cared about women’s rights, but they at least paid lip service to it, in part by putting women in select powerful positions,” said Yaqiu Wang, senior researcher at US campaign group Human Rights Watch. “Women’s emancipation is part of the founding ideology of communism.”
Xi’s ideological directives pick and choose aspects of that founding ideology, conveniently ignoring socialist feminism, which supports equal rights for women and advocates for women’s political participation, reported Nikkei Asia.
Moreover, Xi invokes Marxist principles to justify policy positions like “common prosperity,” which has been billed as an attempt to level the economic playing field amid stark income inequality.
In practice, Xi has been more successful at implementing policies that affirm traditional values, including a crackdown on private tutoring, restricting media depictions of “sissy men” and limiting what kinds of products celebrities and influencers are allowed to endorse.
Other recent policy changes are indicative of the party’s position on women’s role in society, said Costigan.
Amendments to the women’s rights law adopted last month include nice language prohibiting discrimination, sexual assault, kidnapping and trafficking of women, but women’s rights advocates expect enforcement will be spotty at best.
As a gentle reminder, the law stipulates, “Women should… respect social mores, professional ethics and family values,” reported Nikkei Asia.
It also asserts that there should be an “appropriate number” of women in leadership positions within state organs, businesses and public institutions. Following the precedent set last month at the highest levels of power, zero appears to be an “appropriate number.”
The CCP’s anti-feminist stance goes hand in hand with its attempts to quash ethnic minority cultures. In order to Sinicize populations, the party needs to have a clear definition of what it thinks is and is not Chinese.
This project includes crafting a clear definition of gender roles within the family and society, crystallizing a message of what Chinese culture is in order to stamp out everything it is not, said Costigan.
From failing to promote women to the Politburo to forcing entire cities into stringent quarantine, authorities are increasingly willing to make realizing the party-state’s interests their paramount priority, regardless of the optics.