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Beijing Introduces New Rules: Employers Can No Longer Ask Female Candidates about Marital or Childbearing Status

It’s supposed to promote equality on the job market, but will it change things?

Manya Koetse

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Chinese employers are reportedly no longer allowed to ask female job candidates if they are married or have children. But will this help the position of Chinese women on the job market?

Nine government departments in Beijing have jointly released a document stating that employers are no longer allowed to ask female job candidates about their marital or childbearing status.

Although the issue made headlines in China on June 27, a document issued by the Chinese Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security in February of this year already contained the stipulations. The notice shared by state media today is dated May 20, 2019.

The document is titled “Notice on Further Strengthening Recruitment Management to Promote Women’s Employment” (“关于进一步加强招聘活动管理促进妇女就业工作的通知”) (link), and states that no requirements for gender should be included in any recruitment plans or interviews.

Xinhua News reports that the document prohibits asking about the marital or fertility status of female candidates during interviews, and also eliminates pregnancy testing from pre-employment health examination lists.

The recent move is part of a wider effort led by China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security to ban discrimination against women in the workforce.

Companies violating these rules will reportedly be fined 10,000 yuan ($1452) or more if they refuse to correct their practices.

At time of writing, the topic “Recruiters Cannot Ask about Women’s Marital & Childbearing Status” (#招聘不得询问妇女婚育情况#) received over 340 million views on social media platform Weibo.

 

Gender discrimination on China’s job market

 

Gender discrimination in the job-search process has been a hot topic in China for years. A 2015 study found that 87% of female college grads say there is gender discrimination for female job candidates.

The position of women in China’s job market is a complicated one.

On the one hand, education levels for women have greatly improved among Chinese women over recent decades, bringing greater gender equality – not just within the family, but within the society at large.

China boasts one of the higher levels of female labor force participation in the world. In 2018, the female labor force participate rate was 61%.

But at the same time, Chinese women face huge disadvantages in their working lives. Preferences for male candidates are ubiquitous in job advertisements, or may state that women who are married with children are preferred candidates. On average, women also still earn 36% less than men for doing similar work.

Since the end of the One Child Policy, social pressure to have a second child and calls for extended maternity leaves for women are potentially harming the (economic) position of women in China in the long run.

With a 98-day paid maternity leave and paid leave for prenatal checkups, Chinese laws on maternity leave are quite generous. But because this significantly increases the financial costs for (private) companies, many employers would rather hire a man than a woman who has not had children yet.

With the introduction of the “two-child-policy”, a woman could take a total paid leave of almost 200 days if she had two children. Calls to extend maternity leave to three years caused controversy on Weibo in 2014, when women said that nobody would hire a woman that could potentially be gone for six years.

In 2018, news came out that one school in Zhengzhou, Henan, had a policy of giving ‘time slots’ to female teachers to get pregnant with their (second) child. When one female teacher fell pregnant before her ‘turn’ was up, she was dismissed.

Earlier this year, the case of a woman in Dalian who was let go by the company for falling pregnant within her trial period also ignited discussions online.

When women who are already employed have a baby, they also have a greater chance of being demoted or earning less. A survey by job recruitment site Zhaopin.com found that 33 percent of women had their pay cut after giving birth and 36 percent were demoted (NPR).

When it was announced in 2016 that Anhui province would introduce a paid ‘menstrual leave’ for working women on their period, many female netizens protested the policy, saying that granting women special days off would only “make it even harder for women to be hired.”

 

Will this really help?

 

As for the latest announced regulations – many netizens are not too optimistic that they will actually change the position of women on the job market.

“Lazy politics, do they think that a few laws will solve the basic problem? And that companies will listen?”

“How will you implement these regulations?”, others wonder.

“Even if they’re not allowed to ask, they have others way to find out your status,” another person writes.

One Weibo commenter remarks: “I asked my friend who works in human resources if they really ask these questions. He answered: ‘Of course we don’t, that would be very unprofessional.’ ‘But if you filter out the resumes do you take gender into account?’ He answered: ‘Ha ha ha! Of course we do!'”

Some responses on Weibo are even more pessimistic, saying: “This will just make companies deny women of a certain age altogether. If you really want to change things you should give both men and women maternity leave.”

“To be honest,” one commenter named Absolom writes: “The costs that come with women’s childbearing should either be a responsibility taken up by the family (if you think that childbearing is a private affair), or by the state (if you think heightening childbearing rates is of importance to society). The ones least responsible for this are companies. If you put all responsibility on companies, I’m afraid that it’s still the women who suffer in the end. If they’re not allowed to ask, these companies simply won’t hire women of childbearing age at all.”

The majority of comments on Weibo also convey the idea that the policy might lead to companies not hiring women at all anymore; making things worse for them instead of improving their position on the job market.

But not all responses are negative. “I do support this policy,” one person comments: “When I just graduated and was looking for a job, one employer once expressed his concern over my single status, [saying] they were afraid I’d get married. Recently I was also looking for work, and one person straightforwardly asked me if I was okay with quitting my job if I’d get pregnant.”

Even so, the supportive comments are difficult to find among the thousands of reactions. “Are you 30 and single?” one Weibo user writes: “You might as not go to the job interview at all anymore.”

By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Local News

Horrific Dalian Attack Dominates Discussions on Weibo: Suspect Arrested

People’s Daily writes the attacker suffered from “mood swings” after a fight with his girlfriend.

Manya Koetse

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A gruesome attack on a woman walking the streets alone was caught on surveillance cameras this weekend. The violent assault has been a major topic of discussion on Chinese social media for the past two days. After a manhunt for the attacker, state media now report that he has been arrested.

A shocking surveillance video capturing a female pedestrian being attacked and severely beaten by a man is dominating discussions on Chinese social media these days.

The surveillance video started making its rounds on WeChat and Weibo on Monday. The extremely disturbing footage shows how a woman is walking by herself and is then approached by a man who beats her to the ground, severely kicks her head and body some twenty times, tears her clothing, and then drags the woman away by her hair (warning graphic).

Chinese authorities and social media companies could not seem to find the source of the video right away.

Since the footage was captured at night, it did not clearly show the surroundings, leading to police all across China launching an investigation to find out more about where this took place. On Tuesday morning, the Ministry of Public Security asked the public to provide leads on the incident.

It now turns out that the horrific attack occurred on June 22 at 0:44 AM in the Ganjingzu district in the city of Dalian, where police received a report that night that matches the incident on the video.

The victim has been identified as the 29-year-old Wu, who is reported to have suffered “soft tissue damage to her face” due to the attack, and who has since been discharged from the hospital following treatment.

Although some netizens questioned how it would be possible for the victim to only suffer “soft tissue damage,” further details were not disclosed.

The security company which the surveillance camera belonged to stated they did not know how the video had leaked online in the first place.

On Tuesday afternoon, some reports claimed the attacker had not been arrested nor identified yet. Other reports said that Dalian police were investigating a suspect by late afternoon.

 

He suffered from mood swings after a fight with his girlfriend.”

 

On Tuesday night at 23:45, state media outlet People’s Daily reported on Weibo that the suspect had been detained.

The newspaper stated that the suspect is a 31-year-old man from Dalian named Wang. According to People’s Daily, he suffered from “mood swings” after a “fight with his girlfriend,” and randomly attacked and molested the victim “after a night of drinking.” He has now confessed to his crime.

Photos of the alleged suspect are making their rounds on social media, although official sources have not confirmed that these photos are indeed of the 31-year-old Wang.

By now, the Weibo hashtags “Man Beats up Girl in the Middle of the Street” (#男子当街暴打女孩#) and “Woman Viciously Beaten and Dragged Away by Man Late at Night” (#女子深夜遭男子暴打拖行#) received a staggering 1,35 billion and 120 million views, showing that this case is closely followed by Chinese netizens – comparable to the Didi murder cases that also received major attention in 2018.

Many comments on Tuesday night criticized Chinese state media for reporting on the suspect’s alleged “mood swings.”

“This brings a whole new meaning to the term ‘mood swings’,” one commenter noted. “Let’s hope his prison cell mates will beat him every day he has a ‘mood swing.'”

“I don’t want to know anything about his feelings before he used this kind of violence! I don’t want to know anything about his experience! It’s never a reason to do this to a stranger!”

“So mood swings lead to people randomly attacking and molesting an innocent passer-by?!” Others wrote: “He broke up with his girlfriend and wanted revenge on all women.”

In late May of this year, a young woman was stabbed to death in the city of Nanchang, in what appeared to have been a random attack; the attacker, a 32-year-old man, was unable to find a wife and suffered from a mental illness.

In 2015, a man with a sword stabbed a woman to death in front of the Uniqlo store in Beijing’s Sanlitun area. That same year, another Chinese man stabbed five random women who resembled his ex-girlfriend.

About the Dalian case, one commenter says: “This degree of violence just makes my blood run cold. For the police, it might just be another case, and they’re not making a big fuss about it, and that saddens me.”

Another Weibo user writes: “The evil for women in society is just too much. To be violently attacked like this on your way home – it’s just inexplicable. I hope the victim will get well soon.”

By Manya Koetse and Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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Backgrounder

Over a Third of China’s Babies Are Delivered via C-Section – The National Health Commission Wants to Change That

Fear of pain is a major reason for nonmedical cesarian deliveries on maternal request.

Manya Koetse

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Image by Sohu News

China’s National Health Commission wants to lower the nation’s high C-section rates. On Chinese social media, many women argue it should be up to the mother to decide how she wants to give birth.

In 2018 the percentage of deliveries by cesarean was 36.7% in mainland China, according to the latest Report on Women’s & Children’s Health (中国妇幼健康事业发展报告) that was launched by the National Health Commission on May 27.

This means that together with Hong Kong, Taiwan, Brazil, Egypt, and Turkey, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) now has the highest C-section rates in the world.

A World Health Organization report from 2010 estimated that 46% of Chinese babies were delivered via C-section. In 2017, another study found that this percentage was incorrect, although some urban and wealthier regions in China, such as Shanghai, did see C-section (CS) rates as a high as 68% (Black & Bhattacharya 2018, 1; McNeil 2017).

China’s CS rates have recently become a hot topic in Chinese newspapers and on social media. On May 27, the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China held a Beijing news conference in which Qin Geng (秦耕), the director, announced that more actions will be taken to encourage natural childbirth among Chinese women.

Qin Geng during the press conference on May 27.

These actions will, among others, include stricter regulation of cesarian section operations and the provision of more support and pain relief for laboring women, as well as a higher hospital income for natural births. The National Health Comission hopes to significantly reduce the number of unneccesssary C-sections without medical indication in this way (Beijing News 2019; Caijing 2019).

Since 1985, the international healthcare community has considered 10-15% to be “the ideal rate” for C-sections, of which the highest percentage are those CS deliveries with medical indications that can actually save the lives of mothers and babies.

Although the worldwide rates for CS deliveries have increased throughout the years, there is no evidence for the benefits of nonmedically indicated C-sections for women or children, according to the World Health Organization.

This is not the first time Chinese authorities try to combat the country’s high CS rates. After reports by the World Health Organization from 2010 and 2015 pointing out the potential hazards of unnecessary C-sections, there have been various state efforts to reduce the number of nonmedical cesarian surgeries.

Besides the introduction of free prenatal education classes, these efforts included monitoring public hospital CS rates and removing bonuses or cutting portions of a hospital’s income once their CS rates reached a certain threshold (e.g. 40%) (Wang 2017, 3). These government initiatives seem to have had effect: the country’s C-section growth rates have slowed down, but were not decreasing yet.

Since the Chinese government announced an end to its one-child policy in 2015, lowering cesarean sections rates has become a more urgent matter, as Chinese couples are now allowed to have a second child.

Although various studies from mainland China and beyond challenge the idea that nonmedical C-sections are less ‘safe’ than vaginal births for single deliveries, this risk changes when a woman who previously had a CS section plans another pregnancy: multiple cesarean sections are associated with additional risks including CS scar rupture and abnormal placental invasion (Biler et al 2017, 1074; Black & Bhattacharya 2018, 2; Liu et al 2015, 817).

 

Why So Many C-sections in China?

 

But why does China have such a high cesarian delivery rate at all? Since the early 1990s, mainland China saw a more dramatic rise in CS rates than, for example, the USA; from less than 10% (with only 3.4% in 1988), China went to one of the highest in the world (Hellerstein 2011; Wolf 2018, 13).

The answer to why this is, is not so straightforward and relates to socio-economic changes as well as cultural factors that come into play.

One reason is that there is a general belief in the ‘safety’ of cesarian births that influence women’s choices for a (nonmedical and planned) C-section (Black & Bhattacharya 2017, 2).

An insightful study into this matter is that of researcher Eileen Wang (2017), who found that anxiety about giving birth and fear of pain is also a major reason for nonmedical cesarian deliveries on maternal request, especially considering that only a minority of Chinese women are given any form of pain relief during labor. Besides traditional concepts, this is also because China faces a shortage of anesthetists and because obstetricians are not always well-informed to prescribe other forms of pain medication (2017, 5).

As noted by Wang, epidurals are denied to laboring women not just because anesthesiologists are too busy, but also because of various other factors: different from a scheduled C-section on their agenda, they are not always available during nighttimes and in weekends to administer anesthesia to women in labor, do not have the time to monitor a patient for hours during labor (whereas a cesarean could be done in an hour), or were not even trained to administer epidurals (2017, 5).

“Giving labor without pain: removing mom’s fear for giving birth” – image by Chinese website http://www.8bb.com/huaiyun/1381.html.

According to Wang, the concerns about labor pain result in more requests for C-sections, both before and during labor. With relatively low awareness and availability of labor pain relief methods many Chinese women simply opt for a C-section as a way to control their pain.

But there are also other factors that contribute to the relatively high rate of women requesting C-sections for nonmedical reasons. One of them is the importance placed in the astrological calendar: having a baby on that one ‘lucky day’ or within that ‘lucky year’ is considered enough reason to plan a cesarian birth for many Chinese families.

In early 2015, ahead of the Chinese New Year, many women rushed to the hospital to make sure their baby was born in the Year of the Horse (2014) as the Year of the Goat (2015) was coming up. There is an old Chinese saying that nine out of ten people born in the Year of the Goat are incomplete and will suffer from great misfortune throughout their life (“十羊九不全”).

Another factor that leads to more cesareans on maternal request relates to the existing concerns among women that vaginal delivery will affect their figure or sex life (Wang 2017, 2).

 

Responses on Chinese Social Media

 

Since the Beijing news conference of May 27, the hashtag “Reducing Unnecessary Cesarean Section Surgery” (#减少非必需剖宫产手术#) has taken off on Chinese social media.

On Weibo, the hashtag page received 340 million views at time of writing. One thread about this topic even received over 28400 comments.

“What do you call ‘unnecessary cesarian’?” one of the most popular comments said: “Isn’t it that so many women in labor choose to have a C-section because natural childbirth is too painful?”

Other commenters also called for a normalization of pain relief in labor, saying that the high percentage of C-sections lies in the fact that Chinese women lack access to “wútòng fēnmiǎn” (无痛分娩) or “painless birth,” meaning vaginal delivery with pain relief.

Some Weibo users also stress that women should have the freedom of choice on how they wish to give birth, saying: “C-section or natural should be my own choice” and “If you leave me no choice I might as well not give birth at all.”

Multiple commenters write: “The lower the C-section rate, the higher the suicides,” referring to an incident that occurred in Shaanxi in 2017 when a pregnant woman committed suicide by jumping from the fifth floor of the hospital after she was allegedly denied a CS delivery.

Other Chinese netizens also complain about the fact that it seems to be men who are promoting the new policies to combat the high C-section rates, writing: “Isn’t there a way to have them suffer the pain of labor instead?”

In her study, scholar Eileen Wang also argues that the lack of pain relief is one of the major issues that should be addressed by policymakers who are hoping to reduce the number of C-sections in China. Further improving the childbirth experience by, for example, integrating a midwifery model, is also essential in making natural childbirth more attractive for Chinese women, Wang argues.

For now, many hospitals in China are still offering C-section “packages”: some prices start at RMB 5800 ($840) for a C-section, other hospitals have packages that start from RMB 88,000 ($12,741) including a three-day hospital stay in a private room.

“It’s a pregnant’s woman body, so she should decide how she wants to deliver her baby,” one commenter on Weibo writes: “It should be a woman’s right to decide.”

By Manya Koetse

References

Biler, A., Ekin, A., Ozcan, A., Inan, A. H., Vural, T., & Toz, E. 2017. “Is It Safe to Have Multiple Repeat Cesarean Sections? A High Volume Tertiary Care Center Experience.” Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences 33(5): 1074–1079.

Black, Mairead & Sohinee Bhattacharya. 2018. “Cesarean Section in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong— A Safe Choice for Women and Clinicians?” PLOS Medicine 15(10): 1-3.

Caijing. 2019. “卫健委:全国剖宫产率为36.7% 积极推广分娩镇痛.” Caijing , May 27 http://economy.caijing.com.cn/20190527/4591594.shtml [5.31.19].

Hellerstein, Susan Celia. 2011. “Cesarean Delivery in China Analysis of Cesarean Deliveries Without Indication.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: 20s.

McNeil, Donald. 2017. “Study Finds Lower, but Still High, Rate of C-Sections in China.” New York Times, Jan 9 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/09/health/c-section-births-china.html [6.2.19].

Wang, Eileen. 2017. “Requests for Cesarean Deliveries: The Politics of Labor Pain and Pain Relief in Shanghai, China.” Social Science and Medicine (173): 1–8.

WHO. 2015. “WHO statement on caesarean section rates.” World Health Organization, April https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/maternal_perinatal_health/cs-statement/en/ [6.2.19].

Wolf, Jacqueline H. 2018. Cesarean Section – An American History of Risk, Technology, and Consequence. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Featured image by Sohu News.

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