A challenge for China’s women

By By Jonathan Long

By Jonathan Long

Three U professors played a key role in co-editing a new journal exploring women’s roles and rights in the rapidly growing Chinese economy. The journal was published in a recent periodical issue of Feminist Economics and investigates the adverse effects on a widening gender gap in the country.

One of three professors asked to co-edit the journal, Gnseli Berik, collaborated on the project, which explores the challenges women face as the country’s laws and culture are reshaped in the wake of economic growth in China.

The journal reports how the old and new reform policies are changing as a result of the country’s decision to become a new member of the World Trade Organization.

The switch to a market economy has opened the country to conflicting reforms and new policies. The change marks China’s move from its previous socialist state.

“Some of the (new) policies are (designed as) gender-blind policies,” said Berik, a professor of economic and gender studies. “(They are) appearing to be neutral but having an unintended adverse effect on women.”

Aiming to help identify the rising policy problems facing women in the cultural and economic change of the country, the journal examines shifting land distribution, privatization of health-care, discriminating labor markets, employment security and the introduction of western beauty standards targeted at women.

“All these (western) beauty standards are changing the constraints of the culture,” Berik said. She explained that the traditional roles of women are being redefined and that previous rights to land ownership and universal health care are being taken away by new policy changes.

“When designing policy, (its) makers need to view the outcome on all types of people,” Berik said.

Changing policy is forcing many rural and poor women into low-paying jobs with little or no labor-law protection — an industry which supports the country’s large export trade, according to the journal. The booming economy has helped lift the status of many Chinese women, but has greatly separated others from similar benefits due to social class and financial well-being.

The journal is being translated into Chinese. Berik hopes it will be used as a guide for policy makers both in China and the United States. Berik said the conditions the Chinese population lives in should bother the public ethically and that our government should pay more attention to the issue.

Diana Strassmann, editor of the journal and professor of the practice in humanities at Rice University in Houston, Texas, said in a written statement that she hopes the special issue reaches as many people as possible, including advocates and policy makers.

[email protected]

Teresa Getten

Gunseli Berik is one of three U professors to co-edit a new journal exploring women’s roles and rights in the Chinese economy.