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POLI 338 (20)
Juan Wang (20)

POLI 338 - Howell: Women's Political Participation in China.doc

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Political Science
POLI 338
Juan Wang

Howell – Women's Political Participation in China: In Whose Interests Elections? What explains decline and continued low levels of women's political participation in village governance in the reform period, and following village elections in 1988? Dominant explanation focuses on women's lack of self-confidence, and enduring drag of 'feudal' attitudes and traditional patriarchy. These two factors combine to form a material effect, as preference privileges men, particularly with access to education and thus, employment opportunities. Solution adopted by All-China Women's Federation (ACWF): targeting of sexist attitudes, and raising women's skills. Argument: “dominant text on women's under-representation in village committees masks a more complex conjuncture of variables that shape women's position in local politics.” It is necessary to consider social practices, economic structures, institutional norms and procedures, and political culture. Representation of Women in Rural Politics With Dengist reforms and subsequent decline of ideology, incentives to engage politically began to weaken; rising economic wealth brought new avenues of power and success. With this came growing diversity in governance structures, and a perceived threat to rural stability. This led senior leaders such as Deng and Hu Yaobang to advocate for competitive village elections from the mid-1980s. This was achieved in June 1988. By turn of millennium, almost every village had held at least one election. Some villages experimented with elections for leadership of the Party branch. Though they are fraught with problems and variation, the practice of elections itself has been established and regularized. Furthermore, though the local Party branch holds power over the democratically-elected village committee, the latter still nevertheless serve important functions. However, women remain underrepresented; 1 per cent of village committee chairs are women, and 16 per cent of village committee members are women. Furthermore, available data suggest women's participation has declined compared to Maoist era. Another recurring pattern is that women are usually assigned portfolios associated with their reproductive and domestic responsibilities. “Village committees are thus sites through which gender relations are played out and reproduced.” “Women thus gain their positions on the village committees not by virtue of their recognised general competence, but because of the necessity of having a woman to carry out family planning.” This 'gendered division of labour' is mirrored throughout every strata of the political system. “Why is it that the introduction of choice has worked against women rather than being an opportunity for women to gain greater ground in the local political arena?” Explaining Women's Low Representation in Village Committees Introduction of village elections has shown challenges of enduring negative attitudes towards women, weakness of state intervention through ideological means, institutional barriers, and male political culture. Sexism Remain deeply entrenched in rural China, despite four decades of socialist equality. “The introduction of choice by village residents in the selection of leaders has opened up a sore wound, laying bare the enduring social beliefs about the appropriate roles in the economy and household of men and women, and the relative superiority of men over women.” Women's own internalization of sexist attitudes hinder themselves in a self- censoring process. Focus on women's supposed 'low quality' is problematic in two ways: − focuses on individual women as source of problem and solution − masks way in which structural, institutional, and political factors shape political engagement “The constant focus on girls and women as the site of correction detracts attention from addressing the underlying problem of son-preference, and deeply entrenched sexist beliefs, norms and practices. Ironically the constant thrust to improve women reproduces the notion that women always 'lack' certain qualities and skills compared to men.” Weakness of State Intervention State gender ideology has unitary focus on 'women' rather than gender analysis that sees gender as socially constructed. State-derived feminism “builds upon the work of Engels, Lenin, Marx and Mao on the 'woman's question,' which links women's subjugation to historical and material forces.” As these were eliminated through socialism, the problem must be ideological. This dom
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