The Effects of Gender Inequality on Child Labour
Amongst the neon lights that bathe the streets throughout Nanxian, like anywhere in China, a plethora of food vendors and shops selling products ranging from phone accessories to fake Air Maxes compete on every footpath. With wafts of steamed buns and stinky tofu seeping from every corner and loudspeakers blaring advertisements interposed with Justin Bieber singing “Baby”; I suddenly realised that females ran nearly every single shop. Peaked by this revelation, I asked a waitress in her mid-twenties when she had started her job and she replied that she began working straight after finishing school at the age of 16. This is a similar scenario for a lot of young women in China.
Is China’s educational system the root cause for the gender gap? Gender inequality has been markedly narrowed in education since the State Council passed the Compulsory Education Law in 2006. The law provides 9 to 10 years of free education – primary and junior school – for all children at the age of 6. With available funds for education, there is an increasing accessibility of schools in urban and rural areas. Perhaps this would explain why child labour is a rare occurrence in Hunan.
Although China’s educational system is unprejudiced to sex, ethnicity, disability and religious belief, the question of gender still remains deeply ambiguous in Chinese society. For example, the gender gap is prevalent in the school that I work at, which is a private boarding school that costs around ¥20,000 (around £2,200) a year. It currently holds about 600 students in which more than two thirds are male. A majority of my students have sisters who go to public schools or unregistered schools where the staff have no teaching certification; a requirement of state law.
Why is gender so important in Chinese society? It all comes down to culture and anachronistic perceptions. China is a traditional and patriarchal society, which has been solidified by more than 40 years of the one-child policy. This favouritism towards males stems from the notion that they are the providers and, significantly, because they carry on the family line. Therefore, parents often pay for their sons to attend a private school, college and possibly university in order to find high-income jobs, which is in the manufacturing industry. Girls, on the other hand, are constrained by domestic responsibilities and have limited opportunities in the labour market, with “men only” as a common prerequisite found in job fairs. With work found only in traditional service sectors or in agriculture, women account for 70 per cent of China’s total agricultural labour force.
What are the effects of gender inequality? This cultural attitude is increasing a demographic trend of women with relatively low levels of education and skills. According to a 2013 National Survey on Educational Attainment, out of 51,107 people over the ages of 15 interviewed in Hunan, 9,080 people attended senior school, 5,206 were male while 3,874 were female. In a similar survey regarding illiteracy, 1,408 people over the ages of 15 were illiterate, 390 were male and 1,018 were female. Although these statistics indicate a gender gap, these surveys are questionable as Chinese authorities have excluded to show important information such as the specific age range of interviewees, what ratio of people are from urban or rural areas, etc. With a lack of transparency, statistics on China’s domestic problems will remain an enigma.
by Anthony H