Orange Your Neigbourhood

As part of the UN’s International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women and the start of Orange your Neighbourhood, a 16 day campaign to raise awareness of gender-based violence—members of Churchill College reflect on issues of violence against women both internationally and closer to home.

In the first of this series, Churchill PhD student and Wing Yip Scholar, Tiantian Chen—highlights some of the problems facing women in China. Tiantian’s research focuses on the power struggles within single-career families, which she hopes will help promote policy innovation in China to end employment discrimination and domestic abuse.

Running on Cracks

The invisible work-family conflict for women in China.

—Tiantian Chen

Running on the Cracks: by Tiantian Chen

As Beauvoir argues in her book The Second Sex, two dominant factors, “participation in production” and “reproductive slavery” constrains the evolution of women’s conditions. Although nowadays great efforts have been dedicated to the women’s empowerment in China, Beauvoir’s statement, to some extent, holds true in demonstrating the risks most Chinese women are currently facing.

One of the most serious problems is female sex trafficking. Although no exact figure has been given for the total number of women trafficking, a report from the Ministry of Public Security said police rescued over 74,000 women from either traffickers or pimps in 2013. Another risk is extra children punishment. Local officials implement forced abortion on women who already have children and cannot afford social maintenance fees[1]. “The sterilizations for those women are often not performed by highly trained gynaecological surgeons, causing infections.”[2] Also, domestic violence is a problem. According to QianZhan Survey,[3] it occurs in 30 percent of families in China.

The above problems are relatively visible. In other words, they have already drawn people’s attention. During my study in Cambridge, I will look into the invisible problem Chinese women are facing. That is women’s work-family conflicts.

According to 2011 Global Gender Gap Report[4], approximately 71.1% of Chinese women have jobs in the workplace, making it the highest ration in the world. The high employment ratio, however, does not mean high-end jobs and better lives. They have to struggle between the role as a “good wife/mother” and a great employee. One one hand, they have to work incredibly hard in order to get to higher positions. On the other hand, they shoulder almost all household responsibilities that the traditional Chinese culture took for granted. And there are not many affordable social institutions helping professional women care for children and an ageing generation. Consequently, professional women feel pressure in meeting work, family and personal responsibilities. A figure of 85 percent of working women, according to a survey conducted by China Women’s Federation[5], are suffering from sub-health problems because of great pressure.

Because of the pressures in work-family balance, some professional women leave their careers and stay at home. There has not been official data in the number of housewives in Chins, but a study[6] of 20 thousand women in China by CNN in 2010 shows that 40% of respondents want to be housewives while only 38% of respondents want to be professional women. Housewives seem to solve the plight of professional women, but they are exposing to various risks due to the absence of social insurance. There are no social polices securing housewives’ social welfare. In modern China, one’s social welfare is offered by one’s work unit. Full-time housewives, without a job, are not protected by social insurances especially medical coverage. And since housewives’ economic position completely relies on husbands, their economic viability is weak if their marriage dissolves. Additionally, housewives suffer from disconnection from the rest society. One housewife tells the reporter[7] that she has nowhere to go except for her child’s schools and shopping malls. 

To tackle work-family conflicts, I propose a household-based social welfare system instead of the work-based one, so that women without a job could be protected by social insurances. In addition, the taxation policy should be made upon a household basis instead of a working individual basis, by considering the overall income and expense of a family. In this way, those low-income families, where the mothers do not have a job, could enjoy tax reduction. Finally, a community-based babysitting services centre could be built up. Working mothers could send their child to the centre for care, thus liberating them from the struggle between heavy workload at home and workplace.

— Tiantian Chen

[1] Social maintenance fees are payments of fine for people who violate the one-child policy. The amount of fine is three times the people’s annual post-tax income. The fine increases with income. Social maintenance fees generate an annual revenue of about 20 billion RMB for the country, but no one knows where they are spent.

[2] “Women’s Rights in China,”accessed by Nov.23, 2014,

[3] “The prevalence of Domestic Violence in China”, accessed by Nov.23, 2014,

[4] Ricardo Hausmann, Laura D. Tyson, and Saadia Zahidi, “Global Gender Gap Report” (report presented in 2011 World Economic Forum).

[5] “Subhealth problems among professional women,” accessed by Nov.23, 2014,

[6]  “The trend to become housewives,” accessed by Nov.23, 2014,


Tiantain Chen’s profile

Image: Running on the Cracks by Tiantian Chen