Women become key players in China’s demographic and economic transition – 10/16/2021 – World

The Chinese government’s expectations have changed so quickly that street advertising still maintains the old pattern of the “margarine family”. In Beijing’s subway, for example, you can see an advertisement for the Temple of Heaven, one of the capital’s postcards, in which young parents appear with two children —a boy and a girl—, all happy on a trip on a sunny day. blue.

After the one-child policy prevailed for 36 years, the government started to encourage the formation of larger families. The big change came in 2015, when having a second child was allowed. In May 2021, it was the turn of the third party to be authorized. Thus, subway posters are already out of date.

Family planning policies are so debated in China that, hours after the latest change was announced, the hashtag #thirdchild policy has arrived had 1.76 billion views on the Weibo network.

This shift comes as a demographic crisis knocks on China’s door, something that was evident in this year’s census. Chinese women have an average of 1.3 children, a rate well below the rate needed to replace the population of 2.1 children. So the population is likely to start shrinking soon.

Population reduction is particularly worrying due to economic repercussions. The reduction in the workforce limits the country’s growth potential and, without the demographic bonus of times past, there are fewer people producing and more spending on health, social security and social assistance for the elderly.

The fear is that, as in other countries, China will be caught in the middle-income trap, in which, after reaching a certain level of wealth, stagnation ensues, preventing it from reaching a high-income standard.

To meet this challenge, the Chinese central command, made up mostly of men, needs to listen to and look to Chinese women, key players in the country’s demographic and economic transition.


In China today, marriages are down, divorces are up, and the interest in having two children—let alone three—is not great. As soon as authorities announced that couples could have three children, the state news agency Xinhua thought it a good idea to conduct an online poll: “Are you ready for the three-child policy?” Result: “I don’t consider, at all, having three children” was the most selected answer, way ahead of the others. The poll quickly went off the air.

Women are the ones who hesitate the most, as they know that, despite significant changes in the last four decades, society continues to place high responsibilities on them.

The government tries to reverse the situation. To contain the rise in the number of divorces, for example, the first Chinese Civil Code, in force since January, established a period for “cooling off”, a kind of interval between the request and the execution of the separation for, who knows, avoid impulsive decisions.

When the government speaks of larger families, it is referring to the traditional model. If they decide to be single mothers, they find it difficult for their children to obtain the “hukou”, the residence registration that guarantees access to basic public services such as health and education.

In September, the government also announced a push for sex education for young people, with the clear objective of preventing abortions that are not health-related. Termination of pregnancy is legal and relatively common in China, bypassing the moral-religious debate common in many countries.

Abortions, by the way, were practiced in the name of family planning policy, especially when the limit was one child. The announcement of these changes, still lacking in details, makes many question how far the government intends to go to determine the ideal size of society and, therefore, of families.

Due to high expectations related to education, raising children is especially expensive for the Chinese middle class. So the government has moved to impose strict limits on the after-school industry in an attempt to help ease the financial pressure on parents.

Some cities went further and created financial incentives for larger offspring. In Panzhihua, Sichuan Province, couples will be able to claim a monthly allowance equivalent to US$77 (about R$423) for their second and third children, until the children reach the age of three. Gansu, one of China’s poorest provinces, also recently released measures with the same purpose.

Even though they are under pressure from family members to “continue” their father’s blood and surname, or who run the risk of being stigmatized as the “leftovers”, many women have resisted following in their mothers’ footsteps. have turned against the traditional marriage model.

Men are charged with putting aside characteristics considered “feminine”. Now, authorities have determined that “effeminate” men have less TV space.

The feminist movement, despite the difficulties, has grown in the wake of the increase in reports of cases of abuse and sexual harassment, along the lines of #metoo. But even with recent achievements, such as laws and campaigns against domestic violence, the struggle of women in China is different from that of other parts.

Feminists test the limits of the system and the tolerance of authorities. Typically, they find creative solutions, seek to maintain discretion, use emojis instead of text to bypass content controls, or speak out by avoiding confrontation — a feminist comedian, for example, is successful on the networks. Because women, of course, still have to contribute to preserving so-called social harmony.

The demographic challenge requires that women, in addition to procreating, continue to work. With the economically active population shrinking, they are indispensable in the workforce. They need, therefore, to continue consuming, in addition to taking care of the previous generation, which is getting longer and longer. The account does not close. Significant changes are needed in support policies and in the labor market.

Like other countries, China needs more day care. But the Chinese also need to overcome a cultural barrier: the persistence of the tradition of leaving children in the care of paternal grandparents, which further increases women’s dependence on their husbands. The popular perception is that it would be better to entrust them — not some stranger — with the care of the little ones.

At the same time, the labor market can be cruel to women, especially of childbearing age or with young children. It still happens that a woman faces, in job interviews, questions about whether she intends to become pregnant —perhaps a holdover from the time when the work unit had the responsibility to guarantee respect for family planning rules.

The centrality of women in China’s new economic phase contrasts with the persistent concentration of men at the top of the government and the Communist Party. Of the 25 members of the Politburo, one of the country’s most important power structures, there is only one woman. On the Politburo Standing Committee, an even more relevant body, there has never been a woman among its seven members.

Designing public policies with an eye to the situation of women is also related to the party’s legitimacy vis-à-vis new generations — especially women from the new urban middle class. Their desires and ambitions may be very different from those of their mothers who, until a few decades ago, mostly lived in a rural environment and centered on the traditional family model.

The ability of authorities to recognize and respond to these changes has a direct impact on satisfaction—at least for them—with the government.

If in 2021 the Chinese Communist Party celebrated its centenary, now it has its eye on the objectives associated with the next commemoration. In 2049, on the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, the country’s leaders aim to fulfill the so-called “Chinese dream”.

They want China to be “strong, democratic, civilized, harmonious and a modern socialist country”. For China will not be all that if women are left behind. Listening to women is necessary not only for economic growth, but also for the State Party’s own legitimacy.

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