Saturday, March 12, 2016

Why China Is So Interested in Gender Equality

Zhibo Qiu,

Image from article, with caption: Attendees at the China-hosted UN Global Leaders' Meeting on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment.
China has a 20-year history of engaging on women’s issues. After all, the UN’s flagship gender equality document, the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action, adopted by 189 countries in 1995, bears the name of the Chinese capital. But recently, China has made an unusual move and increasingly leveraged its foreign policy resources, such as funding, political commitments and high-level events with the UN, on this relative minor issue on the global agenda. ...
Why is China so active in working for the empowerment of women? Traditional Chinese social values discourage women’s participation in politics, particularly as relates to external affairs. However, that trend is likely to change soon in the foreseeable future, for three main reasons.
First, China is increasingly transforming itself from a “game player” to a “game maker” when it comes to shaping regional and international institutions, norms, standards, and concepts. Taking leading role on gender equality and women’s empowerment can increase the visibility of China’s leadership . ... 
Second, mainstreaming gender issues at high-level diplomatic platforms could create more publicity opportunities for China’s first lady, Professor Peng Liyuan, advancing both her policy concerns and personal aspirations. As the UNESCO special envoy for women’s education, Peng impressed the audience with a speech in perfect English to promote pubic awareness and generate actions, on the same day as her husband announced China’s generous donation to UN Women.
While her husband attended the Paris Climate Change Conference, the first lady co-hosted an event on women’s education with the UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova — a promising candidate to be the first female UN secretary general. Peng frequently appears in other public events and high-level conferences as the World Health Organization’s goodwill ambassador for tuberculosis and HIV/AIDs. She often expresses special concerns over women and girls.
During her state visits, Peng has attracted huge media attention and thus plays an important role in China’s public diplomacy. As South China Morning Post put it, “As Xi pursues hardline policies at home and abroad, the soft images of his glamorous wife helps moderate the hard edges by presenting a kinder, gentler face to the world. Her fashion sense and natural dignity represent the attractive and human side of modern China.”
The first lady plays an integral role in Xi’s diplomacy. As a couple, the combination of a gentle Peng and a strongman Xi are designed to soften and humanize China’s global image as well as Xi’s assertive foreign policy.
Third, China’s interest in gender issues reflects a shifting domestic trend. The past decade has witnessed an unprecedented increase of the total amount of young women to be educated and concerned about China’s relations with the outside world. This tendency could potentially change the leadership style and public image of China’s future leaders. ...
In 2015, the number of Chinese female diplomats reached 1,695, or 30.7 percent of the total. That number is expected to rise significantly in the next two decades, as more female students graduate with majors in international relations, public policy, communications, and other related fields. Over time, more women will take senior positions within the government and potentially the foreign affairs-related departments. ... 

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