A new report from Human Rights Watch has detailed the widespread pregnancy discrimination women face in China.
According to the report, China’s two-child policy has led to pregnancy discrimination in the workplace since it was instituted in 2016. “Many women have taken to the internet, the media, and the courts to tell their stories of workplace abuse,” Yaqiu Wang, the author of the report, said in a statement. “By pushing for a higher birthrate without adequate employment protections, the Chinese government has given employers a license to harass and discriminate.”
Under the notorious one-child policy, women were only entitled to one maternity leave; now, they can take maternity leave twice. Chinese companies have specifically sought to circumvent this, by openly expressing a preference for men in job postings and interviews, or women who already have children. Women with no children, or only one child, are often not welcome, or face unequal treatment if already hired. The assumption is that if women don’t already have the allotted two children, they may in the future, and the company would then have to accommodate them.
Human Rights Watch reported that a clothing company in Beijing posted an ad for a management position, and listed their requirements as, “age between around 30 and 35, already have children, good looking, and good disposition.”
Women told Human Rights Watch that they are frequently asked about their plans to get married and have children. One woman, a recent college graduate, said three companies told her she would not be hired if she wanted to have children. Another woman, already mother to one child, said she was told to sign a contract not to have a second for at least three years, as a condition for being hired.
But even once women are hired, they still face problems. Women have been fired for getting pregnant, or have received fines from their employers. Others make the experience so difficult that the women are forced to quit. “A company in northeast Jilin province made a seven-and-a-half-month pregnant employee work at a construction site in the winter,” Human Rights Watch reported.
While China’s constitution does require equal treatment between men and women, the government rarely does anything to address these wrongs. Local labor courts ignore complaints, and if a woman does win, the compensation is typically a lower amount than the woman had to pay just to bring the complaint. “[I] just wanted an explanation, an apology, and just, fair treatment,” said a woman in Beijing who was fired for being pregnant. “[T]he difficulty in defending [my] rights has been beyond my imagination.”
The birth rate in China has fallen to the lowest in the country’s history, the byproduct of decades of oppressive population control. The genders are grossly imbalanced, due to the cultural preference for boys over girls, which led to widespread sex-selective abortions. Girls who survive pregnancy are often killed or abandoned, with millions upon millions of Chinese girls now “missing” due to population control. This has, in turn, led to China having the highest suicide rate of women in the world, an epidemic of loneliness and depression for both sexes, and a flourishing human trafficking market.
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