Chapter II

Equal Legal Status

China attaches great importance to providing legal protection for females. Women enjoy equal legal status with men. Now, a comprehensive legal system has come into being to protect the rights and interests of women and promote sexual equality. It takes the Constitution as the basis and the Law on the Protection of Rights and Interests of Women as the core, and encompasses various specific state laws and regulations, administrative decrees and regulations enacted by various government departments, and local legislation.

The basic principles in China's legislative work concerning women are equal rights for men and women, protection of the special rights and interests of women, and the banning of any discrimination, maltreatment and persecution directed at women. The Constitution of the People's Republic of China clearly stipulates, "Women enjoy equal rights with men in all spheres of life, political, economic, cultural and social, including family life....The state protects the rights and interests of women, applies the principle of equal pay for equal work for men and women alike and trains and selects cadres from among women....Marriage, the family and mother and child are protected by the state....Violation of the freedom of marriage is prohibited. Maltreatment of old people, women and children is prohibited." In line with the principles established by the Constitution, New China has promulgated over 10 fundamental laws, including the Marriage Law, Electoral Law, Law of Inheritance, Civil Law and Criminal Law. The State Council and various ministries and commissions under it have enacted over 40 administrative decrees and regulations. Local governments have devised more than 80 local regulations and rules. All these legislations include clear provisions on the protection of the rights and interests of women. No law in China contains clauses that discriminate against women.

The Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Women promulgated in 1992 provided an effective legal weapon for further enhancing the social status of women and guaranteeing their basic rights and interests.

Under Chinese law, the legitimate rights of women can be summed up into the following six aspects:

-- Women enjoy equal political rights with men. Women have the right, through various channels and in various ways, to administer state and social affairs, and enjoy equal rights to vote and stand for election. To ensure female participation in government and political affairs, the law stipulates that deputies to the National People's Congress and local people's congresses at various levels should include appropriate numbers of women and the proportion should be increased step by step. It states that the principle of sexual equality should be upheld when appointing people to leading posts, and attention should be paid to training and selecting top officials from among women.

-- Women enjoy equal rights with men with respect to culture and education. These cover school admittance, advancement to higher levels of schooling, job assignment after graduation, conferment of academic degrees and being dispatched for study abroad, plus women's rights to engage in scientific and technological research and literary and artistic creation. The government, society, school and family have the responsibility to ensure that the right of female children and adolescents to receive compulsory education is observed.

-- Women enjoy equal working rights with men. These mainly include: the right to work and be employed, equal pay for equal work, time-off, on-the-job safety and medical care as well as special labor protection, and social insurance. The law stipulates that any unit, while recruiting employees, is not allowed to refuse to employ women or raise the recruitment standards for women under any pretext. It cannot fire women or unilaterally annul their labor contracts on the pretext of marriage, pregnancy, maternity leave or baby nursing. It is not allowed to discriminate against women in terms of promotion, award of academic and technical titles, allotment of housing and enjoyment of welfare benefits, nor to assign women to tasks that are not suitable for them. Women enjoy special protection during menstruation, pregnancy, child birth and baby nursing period.

-- Women enjoy equal property rights with men. The law stipulates that rural women enjoy the same rights as rural men in the allotment of "responsibility farmland" and "grain-ration farmland" and in the approval of housing sites. With regard to marriage and family property, women enjoy equal ownership and inheritance rights with men. Widows have the right to dispose of property they inherit, without interference from anyone.

-- Women enjoy equal rights with men relating to their persons. Women enjoy the right to life and health, freedom of the person, the right of portrait, reputation and other rights relating the person; and they enjoy the right of kinship, guardianship, fame and status as a producer. The law prohibits abandonment and drowning of female babies and other forms of infanticide and bans discrimination against and maltreatment of women who give birth to female babies and women who are sterile. It forbids tormenting women with superstitious and violent means and bans maltreatment or abandonment of aged women. It forbids the abduction and kidnapping of women as well as the sale and purchase of such women. It bans actions to organize, force, seduce, shelter or introduce women to engage in prostitution.

-- Women enjoy equal rights with men in marriage and the family. The law states that women enjoy equal freedom in marriage and divorce, and the relations between husband and wife are equal. Women can use their own surnames and given names and participate in production and social activities. Women are subject to special protection with regard to divorce.

While clearly delineating the various concrete rights and interests of women, China's legislation amplifies the responsibilities of state organs in protecting women and clarifies the special status and role of the women's federations and other women's organizations in lawsuits, thus establishing a comprehensive legal mechanism for protecting women. Among the 54 articles of the Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Women, 75 percent list in detail the consequences and legal responsibilities for infringements, thus providing an operational legal basis for enforcement of the law.

At present, China is still at the primary stage of socialism and remains comparatively underdeveloped in economic and cultural development. Therefore, certain provisions on the legal rights of women and guarantee mechanisms need to be further improved. Along with the in-depth development of China's modernization drive, the country's legal system on the protection of women's rights and interests will be perfected.