Sexism thrives in the Chinese workplace

February 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

Female workers in China are sexually discriminated against in the workplace, according to the country’s Women’s Commission. The commission has called for part-time workers to receive paternity rights to help counter discrimination against women who had to take pregnancy leave, and better rights for men to take time of to be with children.

Sharing the burden of childcare is something that’s been covered on this blog before  – but China is a particularly interesting country to look at. I heard a very plausible theory that China has flourished economically because of its commitment to getting women in the workplace – compare this with somewhere like India for example, where cultural and religious factors have traditionally excluded most women from the world of work.  If half of the population are kept in their homes, it can only hold back the economy and the state’s development.

Although historically women in China have been clearly placed as second class citizens – think bound feet, concubines, polygamy – the Communist Party brought with them a raft of rights for women, including the right to divorce and work. These principals have evolved over the last sixty years into a position where women traditionally control the household finances in the rapidly developing country. Men also vastly outnumber women due to the one-child policy and the status associated with having a boy, so when it comes to marriage and relationships, women are in a fairly strong position where they can afford to be picky.  

In the workplace however, two-thirds of women think they are discriminated against, and more than 70% of respondents thought men stood a better chance of promotion than women of similar age and abilities. This interesting post on the China Law Blog discusses how many women are keen to work in US or international companies based in China, because they are less likely to discriminate. A quarter of women even admitted they hold back at work and try not to be too successful because they know it might will cause trouble with their partners.

Almost half of men in a recent census said that they believed it was solely the man’s job to earn money, while the woman should remain at home and tend to the family.

Some attitudes are slow to change, but bringing in some of the laws proposed by China’s Women’s Commission would send a very clear message that family life is something that both men and women are responsible for, and a note of optimism for the masses of women who work in China and are struggling to choose between career or children.

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Hungarian government takes steps to encourage women to have babies

January 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

Hungary Parliament Building, Budapest

A really interesting story on the Guardian website – originally from Le Monde –  on the declining birth rate in Hungary. The population has dived to 10 million, with a fertility rate of 1.27 births per woman forming one of the lowest in Europe.

A number of factors can go towards explaining this of course – in the 1990s abortion rights were heavily restricted so of course the birth right was higher, and under Communist rule, which ended in 1989, women were seen as an essential part of the workforce, both as workers but also as mothers. The pressure to reproduce was heavily emphasised by the state. Women’s rights groups have sprung up in the last 20 years, namely the Feminist Network which was founded by 50 women in 1990, but it could still be said that the post-Communist years have seen women exercise the freedom to challenge their roles from wives and mothers.

Hungarian women are being offered a massive three years maternity leave in a bid to encourage women to have babies – along with plans to improve part time jobs which currently only account for 3% of employment.

Look across to neighbouring Holland, and part time jobs account for 30%.  The problem here is more the challenges of careful town planning to cope as family numbers grow in a densely populated country. The fertility rate is 1.66 births per woman in Holland.

The maternity leave system is also different in the Netherlands – while woman only receive six months leave for pregnancy, she receives full payment of her salary in that time and excellent workplace-related rights. And, crucially, fathers in Holland get good paternity rights too.

Neighbouring Hungary could learn a lot from these lessons – as could the majority of countries in the EU. Make it easier for families to cope with the financial stress of childbirth, make it easier for women to return to work, and for men to take time off to also care for their children. Share the burden between men and women and the whole country suffers.

Otherwise women are condemned to a choice of either family or career.

European maternity laws to be blocked by UK

October 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

A row is brewing in Europe this week – nothing new in that! Except this row could be one of the most important decisions the European Parliament ever makes.

European Union flag

Set to vote this week on increasing maternity leave from 14 to 20 weeks, the UK is planning to vote against the legislation, which would then block the laws being passed.

The British Conservative government is, predictably, concerned about alienating big business. This move could cost British businesses more than £2.5bn a year.

Woe betide any Tory that suggests that these costs are a small price to pay for a more mature approach to childcare.

So many problems with family life and gender relations across the UK are caused by biased childcare policies. The very talk of “maternity leave” places childcare, and issues to do with children firmly with women.  Plus a policy such as this, however well meaning, will undoubtedly make some employers think twice about employing young women of – and I hate this phrase so forgive me – “child bearing age”.

I appreciate that paternity leave (and maternity leave for that matter) in Europe is already bounds ahead many countries in the world – but isn’t it time to build on that success? Instead of just piling more time onto existing maternity leave, with an unreasonable cost on business, why doesn’t the EU instead make a commitment to allow a certain amount of allocated paternal leave, to be divided between mother and father as seen fit within that family.

Women in the UK currently get 12 months off, with the first six weeks on 90% pay, then 33 weeks on just under £125 a week of statutory maternity pay from the state.  

This site is a brilliant tool for comparing which countries offer what in terms of maternity leave – with Sweden leading the way with 450 days paid parental leave; 360 days at 75%, and 90 days flat rate

A flexible paternity-maternity leave approach like this makes the most sense for families and would have wide-reaching implications for women, making it less likely they would have to face a decision between putting their career on the backburner for a few years or have a family.

It’s time the state stopped putting business ahead of the welfare of its citizens.

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