While local media hyped up the presence of female delegates in the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), only 10 women ended up as members of the new Central Committee, an elite body of 204.
According to according to Reuters, this means men make up slightly more than 95% of the Central Committee.
A similar picture was visible at the announcement of the new Politburo later, where only one out of the 25 members is a woman, according to Reuters.
The seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, the highest decision making power in the party, has always remained elusive for women and continues to be.
The glaring gap can be explained, for one, by traditional values that prevail in Chinese society.
China’s patriarchal and patrilineal values left fewer options in every aspect of life for women in Imperial China, persisting until the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1911. At the time, some women may have possessed some power, but it was typically limited to household affairs.
Hence, the odds of holding leadership positions in the government were slim. It has not changed until very recently, though many meaningful strides still need to be made.
Lynette Ong, professor of political science at the University of Toronto, told the BBC:
“The long-standing perception that women’s place belongs at home and in the kitchen mean they are not meant to be ambitious. Their societal role is to be caregivers to the husbands, children and grandchildren.”
“Even though Mao once famously said, ‘Women hold up half the sky,’ women still have a long way to go in their fights for equal representation,” she added.
Female politicians are often placed at less important positions at lower levels, according to Zhao Litao, a researcher at the National University of Singapore who studies the subject.
Zhao told Quartz that it only means their “CVs look much weaker than that of their male counterparts.”
The underrepresentation of women in Chinese politics has not escaped comparison from other territories, such as Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Leta Hong Fincher, author of an upcoming book titled “Betraying Big Brother: China’s Feminist Resistance,” told The Guardian:
“Taiwan has a female president. Even Hong Kong has a female chief executive. But I think the Communist party would have to collapse before you actually saw a woman leading China as a country.
“All the signs indicate that the Communist party does not want women to have power. It wants women to return to the home and take care of the families while men stay on the frontline and do the important work of the nation.”
For now, women in China may look up to 67-year-old Sun Chunlan, the only female in the Central Politburo, the group of 25 that run the Chinese Communist party serving under the top-level Politburo Standing Committee. Sun is in charge of spreading the party’s influence locally and internationally, though she’s likely retiring in five years.
Photos via Xinhua