China’s new policy against gender bias meets fans, sceptics

BEIJING (AP) — China has announced new measures against gender discrimination in Chinese workplaces that forbid employers from asking potential female hires questions such as if they are married or have children.

At some companies in China, the answers to these questions can be disqualifying. Other firms are explicit in their job postings that they are looking only for men.

Many welcomed the government notice, published Thursday, which forbids companies and recruitment agencies from taking certain discriminatory actions against female employees and job candidates. But female workers and analysts alike were skeptical that such measures could be strictly enforced.

“A notice is better than nothing,” said Li Yinhe, a prominent Chinese sociologist on sex and family issues.

“Although (the notice) might not be that useful in practice, at least it states the issues in explicit terms,” Li said. “Companies won’t be as blatant as they were before.”

While gender discrimination in hiring is already banned by Chinese labor laws, the notice appears to target specific behaviors that have made news in recent years. Last April, Human Rights Watch published a report that revealed that Chinese job advertisements were rife with gender discrimination.

Human Rights Watch found several postings that said “men only,” ”men preferred,” or “suitable for men.” In other cases, the company preferred female applicants to be married with children.

Thursday’s notice on “promoting women’s employment” was published jointly by several ministries, including the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. It said companies that post discriminatory job ads can be fined up to 50,000 yuan ($7440).

The notice also forbids companies from including pregnancy tests in medical examinations required for employment, and bans employers from placing restrictions on whether a woman can have children as a condition of hiring.

China officially abandoned in 2016 its decades-old one-child policy, allowing all Chinese couples to have two children. But the government has struggled to convince people to do so. In 2018, the number of births fell by 2 million compared to 2017.

The new measures against gender discrimination call for promoting childcare services for kids under 3 years old, as well as after-school services to ease the burden on parents and help women better balance career and family.

Li Xia, a 28-year-old fitness instructor in Beijing, said she would inform an employer of her personal plans without them having to ask.

“If you hide it at first, they may hire you, but they will find out soon enough,” she said. “And then they still won’t assign you important tasks. You should find a company that accepts you in the first place.”

Chinese women rights advocates saw the notice as a sign that the government is in fact listening to their concerns. Zhou Xiaoxuan, a 25-year-old screenwriter who has accused a prominent CCTV host of assaulting her while she was interning at the state broadcaster, said the new measures signal progress.

“On the whole,” she said, “this policy has given us great motivation. (It shows us) that women’s expressions of personal will are not meaningless.”

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