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[Beijing Forum 2019] Advocating women’s initiative and development

NOV . 07 2019
Peking University, Nov. 7, 2019: From November 2 to 3, the seventh panel session of Beijing Forum 2019 “Women’s Initiative and Development over the Course of Civilization” was held at Peking University. Four sessions were initially held on November 2, covering four topics: the role and contribution of women in politics, education and new economy; women’s motivation in harmonious family construction; health, care work and women’s development; the construction and development of the disciplines. A total of 28 Chinese and international scholars from different disciplines offered their insights regarding the above-mentioned topics.

At the panel session

At the opening ceremony, Ye Jingyi, vice chair of Peking University Council, delivered a speech, emphasizing the significant role of women in social progress. The Chinese government attached great importance to the promotion of women’s empowerment, providing abundant materials for the exploration of women’s initiative and development. From the historical perspective, Peking University was the first national university to carry out coeducation, and took the lead in women’s studies among Chinese universities, which led to women liberation in China. Ye believed that Beijing Forum, which gathered scholars from different cultural backgrounds and research areas, would exert great influence on women’s studies and the advancement of women’s career.

In the first session, Tan Lin, vice president of All-China Women’s Federation, talked about women’s active participation in China’s 70-year development, with reference to the political mechanisms, legislative pledges, platforms provided for women to be engaged in the labor force and women’s involvement in the future.

Professor Kim Heisook, president of Ewha Womans University, discussed women’s leadership in Asian context under the influence of Asian traditional patriarchal culture and four major aspects that must be considered when enhancing women’s leadership: promoting leaership education that facilitates women to come to know themselves well and aware of their autonomous selves, women empowerment by fellow women, building women’s leadership that is adaptive to the changing world and sharpening female consciousness to dismantle the longstanding normative system.

Professor Sun Qixiang, talked about women’s value from the perspective of socio-economic changes. She stated that Chinese women's larbor force participation ranked the first in the world and summarised three major impacts that have led to the reduced sex restriction on labor: the industrial transformation of economy, the promotion of the Chinese government and CPC, and the socio-economic changes bought by the Reform and Opening-up. Professor Sun emphasized that gender equality in the workplace is not supposed to be represented by the equal proportion of men and women, but by fair competition. In this way, women’s ability can be recognized.

Professor Cheung Fanny Muiching of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) discussed structural challenges and agency of women leadership in higher education. She pointed out that the underrepresentation of women at university was a universal problem. Being Vice President of CUHK, she had made great efforts to push forward the establishment and perfection of CUHK Women & Family-Friendly Policies in order to tackle possible resistance against women leadership as well as create a safe and facilitative environment for female faculty members at CUHK.

Professor Yuan Ming from Peking University talked about women in the cross-cultural communications. She invited Zoe Jordan, an American scholar of Yenching Academy at Peking University who organized Yenching Global Symposium 2019 with the theme “Women”, to join her discussion. The Symposium employed a female perspective to review Chinese issues, such as the Belt and Road Initiative and artificial intelligence. Professor Ming believed such a perspective could be developed into a methodology in social science. Moreover, discussing women's issues under a cross-cultural context would provide a wider and richer framework. She then encouraged every woman to share their own stories and piece them together, thus making their voices heard by more people regardless of cultural differences. 

In the second session, Professor Li Mu from University of Sydney, Qian Zhuang, CEO of we-media company Know Yourself, and Professor Ye Delan from Taiwan University, shared their experiences about female leadership and women’s initiative in academic, working, and social space.

Professor Li Mu from the Sydney School of Public Health centered on the female academic leadership in the changing landscape of Australia. She analyzed the situation in Australia in detail, emphasizing that although Australian universities had over one century of history for employing female faculties, women were still under-represented in leading positions, especially in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM). She then introduced the improvement on gender balance made by the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) pilot to support female academics and increase the number of women in senior positions.

Qian Zhuang, a young female CEO of Know Yourself, talked about the invisible restrictions on working women: her female employees are more likely to resign due to family matters; she herself often worries that being a female leader will damage her image as a lady. At first she operated her company in a masculine manner, which led to a mental crisis that she deeply felt the dehumanization and alienation effects of the modern way of working. Inspired by the feminist theory of moral development proposed by American feminist Carol Gilligan, Qian found that females concerned more on care, relationship and connection. She then attempted to manage her company with the ethics of female and helped working females to resist their mutual hostility created by the society. She felt this management would make working more bearable.

Professor Ye Delan argued that throughout history, women had never been absent in promoting social progress, but their voices were often ignored by the grand narrative of history. As President of Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation, she witnessed the endeavor to create a women-friendly society from both the institutions and the public. Since 1996, Taiwan has been paying high attention to the legislative protection of women’s rights. Apart from the improvement of law, people in Taiwan also took actions, such as the “Better food, Better me!” campaign launched by the Homemakers United Foundation and community renovation organized by Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation. Her account reflected that females were playing an increasingly important role in the public space, which received the recognition and support of many males. The action to care about women has evolved into a movement for the sustainable development of the whole society.

The third and fourth session focused on Women’s Motivation in Harmonious Family Construction.

Ye Jingyi, vice chair of Peking University Council and expert in labor law, shared her insights into the ideal picture and the status quo of gender equality in the workplace. Ye stressed it is important to curb sexism, which requires the change of people's perception and the concerted efforts from the government and the whole society. 

Zhou Chang from International Labor Organization (ILO) introduced highlights of ILO new standard, and called for the end of violence and harassment in the workplace. New standard of ILO substitutes social gender for the dichotomy of female and male in issues concerning gender harassment, and extends the scope of applicable companies and employees to have platform economy and sharing economy evolved.

In addition, Kim Miran, associate professor of Sungkonghoe University of Republic of Korea, discussed #MeToo movement in China and feminist knowledge production. Professor Zuo Jiping from St. Cloud State University analyzed capital globalization and women’s domestic role orientation in urban China from a Marxist political economic perspective. Professor Peng Ling emphasized the importance of protecting women’s rights on the Internet.

In the fourth session hosted by Professor Tong Xin, another five scholars gave speeches about women’s motivation in family construction.

Professor Ma Yinan of Peking University Law School, discussed the impact of women in the formulation and implementation of relevant laws. She listed several cases that women have exerted great influence, such as the formulation of Law on Family Violence, the progress of anti-sexual harassment in the workplace, the rule that men and women retire at the same age and the amendment of Marriage Law. She also advocated eliminating ill effects of market economy that affect women.

Wu Xiaoying, a research fellow from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, discussed the dilemma of family caregiving under the myth of familism. She pointed out that care offered to the older generation was inadequate in families compared with the attention to children, but family care shouldn’t be the only solution to aging problems. Wu added that more efforts should be made to improve social caregiving mechanism.

In addition, Professor Li Mingshun from China Women’s University talked about the special role of women in family construction. Professor Xia Yinlan shared the research on the legislation of marriage and family in civil law. Professor Shen Jie of Japan Women’s University gave a policy-oriented analysis of gender equality in Japan.

The four sessions on Saturday wrapped up in applause, whereas the advocacy of women’s initiative and development never ends.

Written by: Fan Xueyuan, Liu Jie and Ma Puiyu
Edited by: Huang Weijian