Nine government departments issued a notice late on Feb 21 to further protect women’s right to work, a move to better promote gender equality following the relaxation of family planning policies.
The notice, released by government organs including the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and the Ministry of Education, requires that employers and human resources agencies not put male-only or male-preferred information in their job descriptions, with the exception of special types of work unsuitable to women.
It stressed that employers are not allowed to ask female candidates about their marital status, childbirth or pregnancy, and a pregnancy test cannot be included in the medical examination before enrollment.
Employers should not put restrictions on childbearing as a condition of employment, it said.
Employers and human resource companies that decline to correct gender bias in their job advertisements may face fines up to 50,000 yuan ($7,400), and human resources companies could have their service permits revoked.
In addition, channels will be opened to receive complaints about gender discrimination in job seeking, and legal aid will be provided, according to the notice.
China has attached great importance to gender equality. Data from the World Bank showed that the labor force participation rate for females in China stood at 60.8 percent last year, surpassing the global average.
China made it clear in its first law on the protection of women’s rights and interests in 1992 that women enjoy equal rights with men to work, and employers couldn’t refuse to employ women or raise the employment standards for women for reasons of gender.
But in reality, gender discrimination in the job market still happens from time to time, the notice said.
In addition, experts worried that the universal second-child policy implemented in 2016 may exacerbate gender inequality for women when it comes to employment.
“Normally, maternity has a negative influence on a woman’s work for a year or two, but the company still pays them a salary and offers social security. A second child will double the costs,” said Wang Fei, deputy researcher of the Institute of Employment Research of Renmin University of China.
Since women usually play a central role in domestic affairs, many employers worry that running a household with two children will further divert women’s attention and energy from work. And that’s why gender discrimination is still very common, Wang said.
“The new notice will to some degree lessen the disadvantages arising from childbearing and further promote gender equality in the era of the universal two-child policy. But companies are ultimately profit-driven. It’s still very difficult for them to go beyond female stereotypes and achieve the goal in a short time,” Wang said.
He suggested the government should offer financial subsidies or maternity bonuses to help reduce corporate costs since “childbearing is a systematic project that all of society needs to pay attention to and care about”.
Li Xueyao, 36, a former employee in a private company in Yantai, Shandong province, said she and many of her female friends have experienced job discrimination, although most of them have stayed silent.
“I had stayed in the company for four years. When I was pregnant with my second child two years ago, the company arranged more business trips for me than before. Being concerned about the health of my child, I had to quit the job and stay at home,” she said.
As a mother of two, she said she barely had any chance to find another job, adding that the new notice will give her more courage to try.