• Thursday, 01 December 2022
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It's a man's world: There will be no more female Communist Party leaders in China.

It's a man's world: There will be no more female Communist Party leaders in China.

For the first time in at least a quarter-century, the Communist Party Congress revealed a striking gender imbalance in the upper echelons of Chinese politics, with no women making the 24-person Politburo.

For the first time in at least a quarter-century, the Communist Party Congress revealed a striking gender imbalance in the upper echelons of Chinese politics, with no women making the 24-person Politburo.

Women have never held much power in the world's largest political party, which has 96 million active members, and now hold even less.

They constitute only 5% of the party's new 205-member Central Committee, while the seven-member Standing Committee, the pinnacle of Chinese power, remains an all-male club led by Xi.

Sun, 72, was the party's executive decision-making body's only female member.

Frequently dispatched to inspect Chinese cities gripped by Covid-19 outbreaks, the former party chief of Fujian province and Tianjin municipality became the public face of the zero-Covid policy, commanding tough measures wherever she went, earning her the moniker "Iron Lady."

However, Sun is a rarity in Chinese politics, where male patronage networks and ingrained sexism have stymied the careers of promising candidates, according to experts.

It's a long way from Communist Party founder Mao Zedong's pledge that "women hold up half the sky."

"I think the Chinese Communist Party's commitment to women's rights is more like a commitment to advance women's economic rights," Minglu Chen, a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney, explained.

"It's really about 'women should work for a living.'"

Chen went on to say that the Communist Party has always been a masculine and patriarchal institution, dating back to its origins as a social movement.

China is not alone in its lack of female politicians.

Women have found it difficult to defy expectations that they will prioritize family life over their careers due to prevailing social conservatism and repression of domestic women's rights activism.

The government has contributed to these expectations by encouraging women to have children in order to offset China's rapidly aging population. Young women have been particularly irritated by this, owing in part to a lack of policy support for working mothers.

"A lot of women talk about how they can't juggle being a good mother, wife, and worker," Chen said.

She went on to say that the majority of provincial officials chosen for promotion have multiple higher education degrees, which disadvantages women.

Many informal patronage networks are also formed through frequent socializing at restaurants with a predominantly male – and often boozy – clientele.

"Many of Xi's former male colleagues in Zhejiang and Fujian are now Politburo members," said Victor Shih, UC San Diego political science professor.

"However, none of his previous female colleagues have made it into the Politburo, let alone top provincial positions."

China also has low retirement ages for women: 55 for female civil servants versus 60 for male civil servants in the same profession, rising to 60 for female officials at the deputy division level and above.

Ministers are expected to retire at the age of 65, while central leaders generally adhere to an informal age limit of 68.

In 2001, China implemented an informal quota system, requiring one woman at all levels of government and the party except the Politburo. But without a proper supervision mechanism, this was lightly enforced.

"If we had a better quota system in place that was strictly enforced, we would have seen different results," Chen added.

"One-party dominance has also contributed to this."

Since 1948, only six women have been admitted to the Politburo, with only three of them becoming vice premiers, and no woman has ever been elected to the elite Standing Committee.

Observers had hoped that Sun would be replaced by Shen Yueyue, head of the All-China Women's Federation, or Shen Yiqin, who became the third woman provincial party chief when she was appointed chief of Guizhou – but no women were promoted.

Despite the fact that women account for approximately 29 percent of total Communist Party membership, very few of them advance from grassroots positions.

According to Shih, the proportion of women in the Central Committee has hovered between 5% and 8% for the past two decades.

"Discrimination at lower levels keeps them from advancing to higher-level positions," he explained.

Women enter government later than men because they held more marginal positions at lower levels, and they are forced to retire earlier than men."

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