As China Prepares for New Top Leaders, Women Are Still Shut Out

So as Beijing’s sultry summer deepens, Guo Jianmei and a group of fellow lawyers and feminists are rushing to complete a document urging the Communist Party to promote more women to leadership positions. They hope to distribute the document to party leaders to stimulate discussion before the congress, Ms. Guo, 57, said in an interview.

She declined to provide details, saying the issue was sensitive because it touched on party power. “It’s unusual for members of civil society to raise an issue with the party like this,” said Ms. Guo, a longtime women’s rights advocate at the Qianqian Law Firm in Beijing.

Twice in the past, she and others have appealed to the National People’s Congress, China’s Parliament, but this is their first approach to the supremely powerful party.

Theirs might be a quixotic venture, but they are pressing ahead anyway. “At least it’s doing something,” Ms. Guo said, sighing.

The party has long publicly championed women’s rights. At the United Nations in New York in 2015, Mr. Xi announced a $10 million donation to U.N. Women, the United Nations office working for gender equality.

Yet political power in China remains overwhelmingly male. Mr. Xi, 64, who was appointed party general secretary in 2012, is expected to serve a second five-year term.

Photo

Guo Jianmei, a lawyer and women’s rights advocate.

Credit
Sim Chi Yin for The New York Times

“It would take a miracle for a woman to become head of the People’s Republic of China in the foreseeable future,” Cheng Li, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution, wrote in a recent essay.

In fact, the percentage of women among full members of the party’s Central Committee has declined in recent years, from 6.4 percent in 2012 before the last party congress to 4.9 percent today.

The figures signal that China is out of step with global trends. According to U.N. Women, more than twice as many women lead a country today than about a decade ago, though the number is still low at 17.

It is also out of step with its Chinese-speaking neighbors.

Taiwan, the self-ruled island that China claims as its territory, elected its first female president, Tsai Ing-wen, last year. In Hong Kong, the former British colony that rejoined China 20 years ago but retains its own…

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