|Feminist Approach to Sex Birth Ratio in China|
|Friday, 07 August 2009 17:38|
by Cai Yiping, Isis International
In the recent years, sex birth ratio has become one of the more prominent issues that hound China. Chinese demographers estimate that men will outnumber women by 300 million in 2020 if the trends persist. In 2005, the national sex birth ratio stood at 119 boys to 100 girls, higher than the average 106 to 107. In some provinces like Hainan, Jiangxi and parts of Zhenjiang, this figure may even be as high as 140 boys.
Many analyses on this issue points at China's implementation of family planning policies and the deeply-rooted patriarchal practice of son preference. The discussions likewise tackled some serious gendered implications of this problem such as increasing number of women trafficked for marriage and sex exploitation as well as increasing incidents of violence against women.
As the most populated developing country in the 1970s, China started to enforce its family planning policies along with its economic reform and open door policies after the devastating Cultural Revolution. Despite of the controversies of the “One-Child Policy” especially with its population control orientation, it is said that the measure has reduced the number of newly born citizens by over 300 million. Moreover, since the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994, China's family planning policies have shifted from one geared towards population control into one that “advance[s] the population['s] quality” and “improve[s] the family planning service”.
Yet the population issue cannot be considered a development and economic issue alone. Nor can it be solely subsumed under health and social service issues. It is a gender issue.
Firstly, women play a major role in reproduction. Their bodies nurture their children within and outside their wombs, before and long after they give birth. Therefore, women’s rights, their needs and interests should be counted in crafting family planning policies. Yet this was not the case in the 1970s.
Secondly, the son preference has tremendously informed the very implementation of the family planning policies, even as the latter merely targeted a significant decrease in China's population growth. The son preference is a blatant form of gender-based discrimination and gender-based violence which in turn would only result to gender inequality.
Women's human rights are therefore at the core of sex birth ratio, more than an development and economic concern as most people have pointed out. It is thus an issue that must be addressed with a strong gender perspective.
Recent years have seen many initiatives that integrate such gender perspectives. In 2004, the Population and Family Planning Commission launched a pilot campaign “Care for Girls,” that aimed to challenge the mindset for son preference in the most affected areas such as in Jiangxi, Zhejiang Province. Apart from the dissemination the IEC materials on family planning policies, the campaign provided incentives such as subsidy for girls’ education and pension for elderly parents over 60 years old for participating families. These incentives are meant to encourage families to recognise girls as equal members and relieve the elderly the anxiety over old age. In Chinese culture, boys are preferred as they are expected to provide for the needs of family members in their old age. The China Gender Facility also gave a grant to Jiangxi Party School to conduct an assessment on the result and impact of this campaign.
Population and Family Planning Commission also sponsored an action research project to explore the cultural dimension of the son preference and its linkage with the set of the political dynamics and practice in the rural community at village level. By re-examining local policies on rights to land, resource allocation and other issues, the villagers realised the imbrication of gender-based discrimination in these policies and the latter's implementation in their daily lives. With such bottom-up initiative sets a valuable foundation for the fundamental changes in Chinese patriarchal culture.
The government is certainly a major party in crafting and implementing the family planning policies. Hence the need to hold it accountable in addressing gender inequality beginning with the sex birth ratio. Moreover, as a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) and the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) and other international treaties and conventions, the Chinese government must be more prudent in allocating more resources to fulfill its commitments to gender equality and social justice, especially if it is to build up a harmonious socialist society.