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© 2018 Brian Stauffer for Human Rights Watch

(New York) – China’s government should mark International Worker’s Day, May 1, 2020, by ending gender discrimination in its civil service recruitment, Human Rights Watch said today. Chinese law prohibits gender discrimination in hiring, but job discrimination remains a widespread problem in the country.

“The Chinese government claims it’s committed to gender equality in employment, but even its own hiring practices are still deeply discriminatory,” said Yaqiu Wang, China researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Chinese authorities need to stop publishing job ads that blatantly discriminate against women.”

Human Rights Watch found that in the Chinese government’s 2020 national civil service job list, 11 percent of the postings specify a preference or requirement for men. In both the 2018 and 2019 job lists, 19 percent of the postings specified a preference or requirement for men. In 2017, the rate was 13 percent.

But the decrease in the overall percentage of discriminatory postings in 2020 is partly a function of the decrease in the percentage of postings by ministries that have had a concentration of discriminatory postings. That is, the most discriminatory ministries are simply not hiring as many people as in the previous year, not that they are publishing a lower percentage of discriminatory ads. For example, every job posting by the Department of Maritime Safety in Jiangsu province specified a preference for men. In 2020, the department had 55 postings, while in 2019, it was 68.

The Chinese government released the 2020 National Civil Service Positions List (国家公务员职位表) in October 2019. The list contains positions in the government, the Chinese Communist Party, and other government-controlled political parties that will become available across the country over the coming year. These are among the country’s most competitive jobs, as they are relatively high paying and offer high job security and excellent health, retirement, housing, and other benefits. In November, more than 1.4 million Chinese took the national civil service exam in the hope of landing one of just 24,000 jobs. The exam results became available on January 7.

Among the nearly 14,000 job postings – some of which were for multiple vacancies – in the 2020 list, Human Rights Watch found that 6 percent specify a preference for male applicants and 5 percent specify a requirement for male applicants. The discriminatory job postings often state “frequent overtime work,” “heavy workload,” and “frequent travel” as reasons for excluding women.

Fewer than one percent of postings state a requirement or preference for female applicants, and few specify reasons. Some of these postings have similar corresponding men-only or men-preferred postings, making the two kinds of postings essentially for the same position. There are also instances for which separate men-only/preferred and women-only/preferred postings were issued for the exact same position – these postings account for 28 percent of the list.

Discriminatory job advertisements violate Chinese law. The Labor Law (劳动法), the Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests (妇女权益保障法), the Employment Promotion Law (就业促进法), and the Provisions on Employment Services and Employment Management (就业服务与就业管理规定) all prohibit discrimination on the grounds of gender.

These laws also state that except for the few types of work or posts specified by the state as being unsuitable for women, employers “cannot refuse to recruit women or enhance the recruiting standards for females because of gender.” China’s Advertising Law (广告法) also bans “gender discriminatory content” in advertising, a provision that on its face should apply to job ads.

However, anti-gender discrimination laws and regulations in China provide few specific enforcement mechanisms and are not effectively enforced. Since 2013, several women have brought successful court challenges over gender discrimination in job ads, but the compensation imposed on violators, in the low hundreds of United States dollars, was so inconsequential that it was not an effective deterrent.

To address that, in February 2019, nine Chinese central government agencies, including the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and the All-China Women’s Federation, jointly issued notice outlining specific measures for implementing existing laws that prohibit gender discrimination in employment. One of the measures is banning job advertisements that specify a requirement or preference for a gender. Employers and recruiters who publish discriminatory job ads can face fines of up to 50,000 yuan (US$7,100).

After China ended the One-Child Policy and began to allow couples to have two children in late 2015, working women in China have increasingly faced pregnancy-related discrimination. Some women have filed lawsuits or pursued arbitration against employers who dismissed or demoted them or cut their pay after they become pregnant.

According to the World Economic Forum, China’s gender parity ranking in 2019 fell for the 11th consecutive year, leaving China in 106th place out of the 153 countries surveyed (in 2008, China had ranked 57th).

“As unemployment has soared as a result of the global Covid-19 crisis, Chinese government agencies more than ever need to enforce anti-gender discrimination laws,” Wang said. “Gender equality should be at the heart of China’s economic reboot.”

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