Chinese Women Have Little Hope for Re-Employment After Lay-Offs

Chinese women over 35 are finding themselves being laid-off frequently and re-hired seldomly, more so than any other group in China.

Efforts to form a market economy have simultaneously hurt women in China aged 35 and older that have little skills. They are being fired from factory jobs and turned down for new jobs.

Clear discrimination and cultural biases about women’s abilities have played a major role in limiting women’s opportunities. “At our factory everyone who was laid off was a woman,” said Sun Jingqi, 41, a former textile worker. “Look around you, everyone here is female,” said Ms. Sun, referring to the group of laid-off workers viewing help wanted listings outside of the town’s re-employment center. “Now what can we do? We’re not young enough. We don’t have experience.”

A 43-year-old woman who identified herself only as Yang said, “What can you do? You have young and old ones to look after. You’re old to learn new skills. You’re not attractive anymore. Nobody wants us.”

Chinese women have been affected in many ways, and not just economically. Surveys have indicated above-average rates of depression, family violence, and divorce in households containing a woman who has been laid-off.

“Laid-off working women don’t just need jobs, they also need emotional help,” said Tan Lin, an expert in population at Nankai University. “They lose their chance to be employed, or re-employed. They sit at home lonely and feel depressed.”

The Ministry of Labor cited that women made up only 39 percent of China’s work force last year, but close to 61 percent of its laid-off workers. Even after one year, most laid-off women are still unemployed.

In response to the crisis, the Chinese government has organized courses to teach women new skills, resulting in trivial success. “The training programs they offer have reinforced stereotypes about women’s work and skills: beautician, seamstress, domestic helper, child care,” said Ching Kwant Lee, a sociologist at the City University of Hong Kong.

Want ads demonstrate the strict requests of employers in China. Take for example an ad placed by Jinzhiyuan Garment Co.: “Secretary, Beijing residents, female, under 30, above 1.65 meters, must have regular features.” Or an ad placed by L’Oreal Cosmetics: “promotion girl, female, under 28 years-old, above 1.65 meters tall, white skin, skinny, healthy.”

Ads like these leave little hope for the average middle-aged Chinese woman seeking employment


New York Times - October 13, 1998

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