The ratio of career women to housewives in China, compared with many other countries, is high. Therefore, women in China need better protection in terms of maternity leave and other benefits, especially now that the government has allowed all couples to have two children.
But many employers in China are reluctant to grant even the legally binding maternity leave, let alone give women extra leave, in violation of the Law on the Protection of Women's Rights and Interests. In fact, quite a large number of employers, in order to avoid the hassle of having to deal with women's labor rights and maternity benefits in the future, refuse to recruit them in the first place, which is one of the worst forms of gender discrimination.
To effectively protect women's rights, therefore, the government has to take certain factors into consideration while drafting legislation. First, it should encourage the employers to recruit women. For example, the government can offer some tax concessions to the companies whose certain percentage of employees are women.
Second, apart from offering tax concessions, the government's human resources and social security departments should tighten their supervision to ensure the employers are not violating female employees' rights, and take strict punitive action against them if they do so.
Third, female workers should be encouraged to voluntarily register－and timely update－their basic information with local government human resources and social security departments, so that if their employers deny them maternity leave, the relevant departments can intervene and penalize the employers. Monitoring and supervision should complement the government's offer of tax concessions to companies whose certain of percentage of staff are women.
Many companies and organizations are reluctant to hire women or assign them important positions because they fear the women's “long” absence from work during advanced pregnancy and nursing periods will cause unnecessary losses. In this context, the government's tax concessions could prompt the employers to change their minds, and recruit more women as staff.
China is losing its demographic advantages, especially because of the fast-rising aging population and the falling number of working-age people. Encouraging women to have two children and thus increasing the working-age population can, in the long run, neutralize this loss. And protecting working women's rights and interests (and offering them some extra benefits) is the best way to encourage them to have two children.
The existing laws to protect the rights and interests of women are principled but not effective. Some clauses are like “toothless tigers” because they don't come with punitive measures. As such, we need foolproof legislation to effectively protect women's rights and interests, and the government should strengthen supervision to ensure the laws are followed both in letter and spirit.
Discrimination against women in workplaces, or any other field for that matter, has no place in modern society. And considering that the sustained growth of the country's economy is related to women's rights and interests, the government should take effective measures to guarantee they are not only protected, but also respected, because only a society that treats women with respect can be a fair society.
The author Qiao Xinsheng is a professor of Zhongnan University of Economics and Law.