China's Family Planning Thwarts Gender Prejudice

For thousands of years, Chinese women were full-time baby-bearing workers while their husbands, rich or poor, habitually just sat back and enjoyed the growing family.

Such gender prejudice, which developed in feudal China and stressed the absolute authority of the male, has been challenged fiercely over the past three decades, thanks to the country's family planning policy.

State Family Planning Commission statistics reveal the rate for male sterilization in China had remained above seven percent for 10 years, much higher than the world's average of five percent.The rate for condom use had also risen from 1.8 percent in 1992 to5.1 percent in 2001.

Over the same period, the incidence of female sterilization in China had fallen from 41.66 percent to 38.1 percent and women's use of oral contraceptives had dropped from 3.75 percent to 2.1 percent.

"It's quite noticeable more Chinese men are taking part in contraception," said Liu Yunrong, a scientist with the National Research Institute of the State Family Planning Commission.

He attributed the shrinking gender prejudice on reproduction to the principle of sexual equality modern China has upheld since its foundation in 1949 and the country's technical breakthroughs in birth control surgery.

There are usually six birth control methods available for people of child-bearing age to choose from, which include tying the fallopian tubes, vasectomy, intrauterine devices, oral contraceptives, condoms and other contraceptives.

Of those, the no-scapel vasectomy technique invented by Chinese doctor Li Shunqiang in the 1980s has become widely accepted in the United States, Thailand and Mexico for its simplicity, efficiency and fewer side effects. World Health Organization interim figures show that nearly half of the world's operations for male sterilization have been done in China.

However, technical progress plays only a tiny role in fully realizing the principle of sexual equality in procreation. The real barrier remains the latent attitude which assumes that whether to conceive a baby is for men to decide and women to act.

"It's a global phenomenon that male contraceptive methods are used less than those for women," Liu said, adding the average worldwide rates for condom use and vasectomies have remained around five percent for years.

To combat such deep-rooted prejudice, the late Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai made a speech in 1963, encouraging men to shoulder responsibilities in birth control and urging the Chinese people to make male participation an established practice.

It was not till 30 years later that the international community began, under pressure due to the fast spread of AIDS and the burgeoning women's rights movements, to embrace the concept of male participation which called for a balanced sexual relationship granting women equal rights on reproductive decisions.

Currently in China, male participation is not only confined to birth control but has spread to improvements in women's reproductive health.

Given no contraceptives designed for women can prevent the spread of HIV, the Chinese government encourages married couples to use condoms and calls on men to be responsible for their partners' health and avoid unplanned pregnancy or induced abortions.

As rural Chinese are usually simply educated and have little access to knowledge about personal hygiene, the State Family Planning Commission has shifted its working target to the countryside.

To date, about 88 percent of villages and townships and 90 percent of counties in China have set up reproductive health centers open to not only women but also men and juveniles.

Wu Huiqin, director of the Xidi Town Reproductive Health Center, said it was quite common in rural areas to see women visiting the center accompanied by their husbands.

A number of men also called at the center to ask about reproductive health issues, she said.

"However, to truly abandon the gender prejudice", Wu said, "more men need to be encouraged to act rather than talk."



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