China is ranked 42 out of 86 in the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index. The country was ranked 83 out of 102 in the 2009 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

The 2011 UNDP Human Development Index (HDI) score for the country is 0.687, placing it 101th place (out of 187 countries). The Gender Inequality Index score is 0.209. China's World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index rating for 2011 is 0.6866, placing it 61th place (out of a total of 135 countries).

Discriminatory Family Code: 

China’s Marriage Law as amended in 2001.[1] The legal age of marriage is 20 years for women and 22 years for men, and the law stipulates that all marriages should be based on mutual consent.[2] Still, traditions of arranged and patrilocal marriages – meaning that the couple usually lives near or with the husband’s family - remain common in much of rural China.[3] A 2004 United Nations report estimated that 1 percent of Chinese girls between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed.[4]

Widely practiced among certain sections of pre-communist society, bigamy and polygamy became illegal in China shortly after the 1949 revolution, with the promulgation of the 1950 Marriage Act.[5] However, according to the 2004 CEDAW report, one of the reasons for revising the Marriage Law in 2001 was to counter a growing trend in bigamy and concubinage; as such the relevant sanctions were strengthened under the revised law.[6] The report provides no further details as to how common bigamy and concubinage are, so it is unclear exactly how many women are living in polygynous relationships today in China.

Under the amended Marriage Act, parental responsibility is shared equally.[7] In the event of a divorce, the parent who is not awarded custody has a legal right to maintain contact with his or her children, as well as a legal responsibility to provide financial support to their ex-spouse and children, if such support is needed.[8] It would appear that custody decisions by the court are made in the best interests of the child, although information was not available as to whether in practice, family courts favour mothers or fathers in child custody disputes. Women have the same right as men to pass Chinese citizenship on to their children.[9]

Today, women in China are guaranteed equal inheritance rights under the Inheritance Law.[10] However, the US Department of State human rights report states that women in practice face discrimination in regard to their inheritance rights.[11] Elsewhere, research by the Asian Development Bank and World Bank found that there is still a significant gap between legislation and reality in northern rural China where daughters lose their statutory rights to inherit to their brothers.[12]

[1] The Marriage Law of the People’s Republic of China, amended April 2001 in Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (2004), p. 6. [2] Articles 5 and 6 of the Marriage Law. [3] Asian Development Bank (ADB) (2006), p. 4. [4] United Nations (2004), p. 70. [5] CEDAW (2004), p.60 [6] CEDAW (2004), pp.60-61 [7] CEDAW (2004), p.62 [8] Articles 38 and 42 of the amended Marriage Act, 2001, in CEDAW (2004), p.62 [9] CEDAW (2004), pp. 30-31. [10] Article 9 of the Law of Succession of the People’s Republic of China, adopted 1 October 1985 in World Bank (2002), p. 11 [11] US Department of State (2011) [12] ADB (2006), pp. 4, 41; World Bank (2002), p. 9. 

Restricted Physical Integrity: 

Rape, including spousal rape, is criminal offence in China.[13] According to the US Department of State, the police generally enforced the law effectively when reports are made.[14] 

Amendments to the Marriage Law in 2001 and the Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights in 2005 incorporated provisions that explicitly prohibit domestic violence.[15]  Domestic violence is defined by the Chinese courts as any action that takes place ‘among members of a family, encompassing beating, binding, maiming, forcible deprivation of personal liberty, or other means resulting in physical or psychological injury to a family member’.[16] The 2006 CEDAW report states that there are 2700 women’s legal assistance centres available to support women wishing to press charges in domestic violence cases, as well as helplines and emergency accommodation provided by NGOs and by the government.[17] In June 2009, the Domestic Violence Ordinance was expanded to include abuses at the hands of present or former cohabitants and relatives who do not live in the same premises.[18]

Amendments to the Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights in 2005 included provisions banning sexual harassment. Since then, the number of complaints of sexual harassment has increased significantly, according to the US Department of State.[19]

The US State Department human rights report notes that between January and June 2010, 54 rape cases where reported to the police;[20] given that China has a population of over one billion, this would indicate a considerable degree of under reporting. Elsewhere, the 2006 report to the CEDAW committee states that since 2000, 63.1% of the 102,993 '’major criminal cases of infringement of women’s rights and interests’ adjudicated in Chinese courts were cases of rape.[21]

Low public awareness and lax enforcement of the Marriage Law and its provisions relating to domestic violence limits its effectiveness and spousal abuse remains largely unreported.[22] In addition, the US Department of State notes that police and other public service officials were often reluctant to intervene in domestic violence cases.[23] Accurate, up-to-date statistics regarding the prevalence rate of domestic violence are unavailable.[24] However according to a 2008 survey by the state-controlled All-China Women’s Federation (reported by the US Department of State), domestic violence affected one third of all Chinese families and was cited as grounds for divorce in a quarter of divorce cases.[25] In addition, according to the same survey, only 7% of rural women who said that they had experienced domestic violence reported going to the police for help.[26]

There is no evidence to suggest that female genital mutilation (FGM) is practised in China. Trafficking for sexual exploitation has been reported as a significant problem in China. China has written anti-trafficking language and provisions into seven different national laws that aim to combat abduction and forced prostitution of women and young girls, although the wide scope of the problem makes it difficult to implement and enforce these provisions.[27]

Abortion is available on request in China.[28]

Women and men have equal rights to use and access information about contraception, and the state has a legal responsibility to provide family planning services; as such, there is a comprehensive network of family planning and reproductive health clinics across the country[29] However, under the one-child policy, couples do not have the right to choose the number of children they wish to have. The 2002 National Population and Family-planning Law (which replaced earlier legislation) stipulates that couples may only have a second child if they reach certain criteria (e.g. if both parents are themselves only children), although the way the law is applied varies significantly.[30] According to the US Department of State, in urban areas it is strictly enforced, whereas in rural areas, implementation is more relaxed, with couples generally permitted to have a second child if the first is a girl.[31] Couples who had an unapproved child faced disciplinary measures such as social compensation fees (which can be as much as 10 times the person’s annual disposable income), job loss or demotion, loss of promotion opportunity, expulsion from the Communist Party (membership is an unofficial requirement for certain jobs), and other administrative punishments, including in some cases the destruction of private property.[32] In almost all provinces, it is illegal for an unmarried woman to give birth, and doing so can result in a fine.[33]

[13] US Department of State (2011) [14] US Department of State (2011) [15] Article 43 of the Marriage Law in CEDAW (2004), p. 21; US Department of State (2010) [16] CEDAW (2006), p.11 [17] CEDAW (2006), p.13 [18] Amnesty International (2009) [19] US Department of State (2011) [20] US Department of State (2011) [21] CEDAW (2006), p.4 [22] CEDAW (2004), p. 23; World Bank (2002), pp. 21-22, 26; ADB (2006), p. 35; US Department of State (2010). [23] US Department of State (2011) [24] CEDAW (2006), p.13 [25] US Department of State (2011); Freedom House (2010) [26] US Department of State (2011) [27]CEDAW 2004, pp. 18-23; WB 2002, pp. 21-22; ADB 2006, pp. 35-37. [28] United Nations (2011) [29] CEDAW (2004), pp.15, 47 [30] US Department of State (2011) [31] US Department of State (2011) [32] US Department of State (2011) [33] US Department of State (2011)

Son Bias: 

China has an abnormally high ratio of men to women in its population.[34] This is primarily the result of a combination of the one-child policy, and preference for sons, which leads to female sex-selective abortions, female infanticide or general neglect of girls in early childhood. Census data show that more than 40 million Chinese women were ‘missing’ in 2000.[35] The Chinese government has taken measures to try and address this imbalance. These include provisions in the 2002 National Population and Family-planning Law banning the use of ultrasounds to determine the sex of a foetus, and sex-selective abortions, as well as mistreatment and abandonment of female infants, and discrimination against women who give birth to girls.[36] There have also been national and local-level campaigns to encourage people to change their attitudes regarding the benefits of male over female offspring, and providing financial assistance to couples who only have girl children.[37] However, the US Department of State notes that the bans on misusing ultrasounds to determine the sex of a foetus, and on sex-selective abortion, only carry administrative (rather than criminal) penalties.[38] While there is some evidence of a gradual shift in attitudes, women in China continue to face enormous pressure to give birth to sons, particularly in rural areas.[39]

Gender-disaggregated data regarding childhood vaccination, under-five mortality, and rates of malnutrition are not available for China.[40]

According to UNICEF, net primary school enrolment rates are 100% for boys and girls in China, while secondary school enrolment rates are slightly higher for girls than for boys.[41]

The male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2011 is 1.06.[42] Analysis of sex ratio data across age groups indicates that China is a country of high concern in relation to missing women, exacerbated by the one-child policy.

[34] See CEDAW (2004), p.66 for official statistics from 1990 and 2000. [35] World Bank (2002), pp. 20-21; ADB (2006), pp. 29-30 [36] CEDAW (2004), pp.46-47 [37] CEDAW (2006), p.22 [38] US Department of State (2011) [39] Branigan (2011) [40] See UNICEF (n.d.) [41] UNICEF (n.d.) [42] Central Intelligence Agency (2012)

Restricted Resources and Entitlements: 

Women in China were given legal access to land only in 1950. Subsequently, the Marriage Law gave women the right to land within the household unit and the Agrarian Reform Law granted men and women equal right to land in general. However, customary practices, which consider sons the natural heirs of land, are still prevalent in much of rural China.[43]

In regard to property other than land, marital property is governed by the Marriage Law. Following the 2001 amendments, this law allows for separate property but also stipulates that husbands and wives shall have equal right to manage and dispose of property that is owned jointly. However, in the event of divorce, it is common for women in rural areas to be forced to forfeit both their land and property rights to their husbands.[44]

There are no legal provisions that discriminate against women in terms of access to bank loans, although women still face some restrictions due to poverty and lack of assets.[45] An increasing number of credit institutions and organisations target women clients, some by helping unemployed women start their own businesses, others by providing benefits to women farmers.[46]

[43] ADB (2006), p. 4. [44] Articles 12, 17, 18, and 19 of the Marriage Law in CEDAW (2004), p. 49, 60-61; ADB (2006), p. 41. [45] World Bank (2002), p. 16, 27; ADB (2006), pp, 6, 16-18. [46] CEDAW (2004), pp. 49-50, 55-57.

Restricted Civil Liberties: 

There are no legal restrictions on women’s freedom of movement or right to choose their place of domicile, according to the 2004 CEDAW report.[47] Freedom of speech, assembly and association are all restricted in China, although journalists and commentators are able to find ways round government censorship to post critical pieces on the internet.[48] Freedom House reports that despite government restrictions, the non-government sector continues to grow, providing crucial social services as well as increasing citizens’ awareness of their rights.[49] Women’s rights NGOs are active in providing support to victims of violence against women, as well as in other areas, while the All China Women’s Federation is the main agency promoting women’s rights.[50]

The Communist Party in China maintains tight control over the political system. Within that system, women hold few positions of power. In most cases the party chose who was nominated to stand for election to the National Congress. As of December 2009, women comprised 21 percent of the more than 2000 seats in the National Congress.[51] Women held few positions of real power outside of Congress. Only one woman served on the 25 member Politburo, and this member also served concurrently as one of five state councillors. Women currently hold the top position in three of the country’s 27 ministries. At the local level, the government encouraged women’s political participation by reserving a seat on most local village committees; however, this seat was often given responsibility for family planning.[52]

Women in China are provided with ninety days of paid maternity leave at 100 percent of their pay, which is financed out of the national social security system.[53] However pregnant women, particularly in rural areas, can suffer discrimination as a result of their pregnancies, including employment being illegally terminated during pregnancy or while the woman is on maternity leave.[54]

[47] CEDAW (2004), p.59 [48] Freedom House (2010) [49] Freedom House (2010) [50] US Department of State (2011); CEDAW (2004) [51] Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) (2009) [52] US Department of State Dept (2009) [53] International Labour Organization (ILO) (2009) [54] Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) (2006), pp.3-5; US Department of State (2009).


With an advanced civilisation stretching back thousands of years, modern-day China came into being in 1949, with the establishment of the communist People’s Republic of China, under the leadership of Mao Zedong.[55] Under Mao’s leadership, the country saw massive social and economic upheaval, with the collectivisation of agriculture and the nationalisation of industry, as well as the turmoil of the Great Leap Forward (1958-61) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).[56] With the arrival to power in 1978 of Deng Xiao Ping, the country embarked on economic reform, and since then, the Chinese economy has grown considerably; by 2000, output had quadrupled, and by 2010, the country had become the world’s largest exporter, according to the CIA World Factbook.[57] While standards of living have risen for many with economic development, social and economic inequality are now a pronounced feature of contemporary Chinese society, with significant discrepancies between rural and urban areas, and between the prosperous eastern regions of the country, and western China.[58] China is classed as an upper-middle income country by the World Bank.[59]

The 1982 Constitution protects the rights of all citizens to vote, stand for election, and practise (or not practise) religion, although elections in China are not considered free or fair by international observers. It does not include any specific language prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex or gender.[60]

Despite women in China making great strides in educational achievement and workforce participation[61], there is now growing concern that the gap between women and men’s social and economic status is widening again in the wake of China’s rapidly changing economic, social and political conditions.  In addition, there remains a severe imbalance in the nation’s sex ratios, indicating a significant number of ‘missing women,’ thought to be an outcome of the country’s one-child policy. China ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1980, but has not yet ratified the Optional Protocol.[62]

[55] Freedom House (2010); CIA (2011); BBC (n.d.) [56] Freedom House (2010). Tens of millions of people are thought to have died during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. [57] CIA (2011); BBC (n.d.) [58] BBC (n.d.) [59] World Bank (n.d.) [60] Articles 34 and 36 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, adopted 4 December 1982. [61] World Economic Forum (2011) [62] UNTC (2011)


Amnesty International (2009) Amnesty International Report 2009 China, available at, accessed 13 February 2012.

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BBC (n.d.) ‘China country profile’, BBC News,, accessed 17 November 2011.

Branigan, Tanya (2011) ‘China’s great gender crisis’, The Guardian, 2 November 2011,, accessed 17 November 2011.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (2011) The World Factbook: China, online edition, Washington, D.C.: CIA,, accessed 17 November 2011.

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CEDAW (2006) Responses to the list of issues and questions for consideration of the  combined fifth and sixth periodic report of China, CEDAW/C/CHN/Q/6/Add.1, CEDAW, New York

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International Labour Organization (ILO) (2009), Database of Conditions of Work and Employment Laws, ILO: Geneva, Switzerland, accessed 8 March 2010.

Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) (2010), Women in Parliament: All Countries on National Parliaments, IPU: Geneva,

United Nations (UN) (2004), World Fertility Report 2003, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New York, NY.

UN (2011) ‘World Abortion Policies 2011’, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New York.

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-          CEDAW:, accessed 15 November 2011.

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World Economic Forum (2011) The Global Gender Gap Report 2011, available at, accessed 2 March 2012.



Discrim. Fam. Code Rank 2012: 
Discrim. Fam. Code Value 2012: 
Legal Age of Marriage: 
Early Marriage: 
Parental Authority: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Rank 2012: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Value 2012: 
Violence Against Women (laws): 
Female Genital Mutilation: 
Reproductive Integrity: 
Prevalance Of Domestic Violence: 
Son Bias Rank 2012: 
Son Bias Value 2012: 
Missing Women: 
Fertility Preferences: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Rank 2012: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Value 2012: 
Access To Land: 
Access To Property Other Than Land: 
Access To Bank Loans And Credit: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Rank 2012: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Value 2012: 
Access To Public Space: 
Political Participation: 
Political Quotas: