Commitment to the Beijing declaration is unrealized.
In 1995, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action generated political will and global visibility for women’s and girl’s rights and equality around the world. Moreover it is impossible to talk about China without highlighting its recent economic success, dramatic declines in poverty nationally (from more than 28 percent in 2010 to 7 percent in 2015), and shrinking interprovincial disparities in poverty rates. However, as China has become wealthier, commitment to the Beijing declaration and performance on gender equality have been uneven.
The country’s global WPS Index ranking is 76. China gained 11 places, to 76, due mainly to changes in the security and inclusion dimensions. Specifically, community safety rose from 73 to 82 percent, and laws are now addressing legal discrimination. In 2016, China ratified its first national law on domestic violence, which called for the construction of 12,000 complaint stations where women can report assaults. Grassroots activities have also had an impact. Since 2017, China’s #MeToo movement has increased awareness of violence against women and pressured authorities to address it. However, there is no law against sexual harassment in public spaces, and China’s culture of victim blaming severely restricts women’s access to justice.
Given China’s size, substantial differences on women’s inclusion, justice, and security might be expected across its 31 provincial-level administrative units (provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions). Yet the differences are less marked than in India and Nigeria. While some indicators show a wide range—for example, employment ranges from 58 percent in Tibet to 36 percent in Shanxi—the pattern varies across provinces, so that the aggregate subnational index scores reveal a much smaller range.
The mixed performance of Tibet, Heilongjiang, and Guangxi provinces shows the value of multidimensional measures. Focusing on a single variable can create a misleading picture. Heilongjiang has the lowest levels of women’s financial inclusion but the highest rate of women’s cellphone use. Guangxi has the worst son bias (1.23) yet the highest share of women in the National People’s Congress (one-third). And Tibet has the lowest average level of female education (five years) but the highest rate of female employment (58 percent).
Beijing municipality, the capital and second largest city after Shanghai, tops the subnational ranking and has the highest average income. At 12 years, women’s education is comparable to the developed country average. Beijing also has high rates of financial inclusion—84 percent of women have used banking services. However, the capital ranks lower on parliamentary representation (24th) and female employment (16th). There is some variation in employment laws across provinces; for example, Gansu, Yunnan, and Tibet provinces all allow 30 days off work for new fathers, compared with just 7 days in Tianjin and Shandong provinces. Hunan, a mountainous and mainly rural province in the south-central region, has the lowest subnational index value (.610). While not the worst performer on any one indicator, the state performs relatively poorly across the board.