Beneath China’s rise in recent decades lies a potential time-bomb for Beijing itself: A falling birth rate. The country’s population is currently growing at its slowest pace since the 1960s. So, from ruthlessly controlling births Chinese leaders today are fretting over a greying workforce. And as with the old so with the new, the brunt of population policies is borne by Chinese women. Only, unlike in the past, many of them are ignoring the communist party diktats.
Buoyed by their economic empowerment but in a society with a serious gender skew, many Chinese women are defying traditional notions of marriage or repudiating the institution altogether. Even notions of the family are changing with affluent Chinese single women choosing to have IVF pregnancies abroad – not the kind of births the state encourages.
In the 1960s Mao Zedong proclaimed that women hold up half the sky. Then followed the disastrous one-child policy.These days President Xi Jinping says that women should take care of the elderly, educate the children, and uphold “family virtues of the Chinese nation”. This 180-degree turn illustrates how deep-rooted patriarchal mores continue to undermine women’s autonomy. That Chinese authorities have also cracked down on feminist groups in recent years further shows their discomfort with women’s economic progress when it doesn’t serve patriarchal political objectives. But for all societies today, the future lies in reforming gender roles rather than seeking a return to atavistic pasts. Today’s women just won’t accept that.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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