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Commentary: Safeguard women's rights
( 2003-08-22 10:35) (China Daily)

Chinese women change as their country changes. But some of the problems in the area of gender equality continue to hold back progress in women's rights in this country.

Today, women will have their views and perspectives heard when 1,260 women's representatives gather for the Ninth National Women's Congress in Beijing.

They have come together, not as victims, dependents or feeble and passive creatures. They have put their heads together to explore their initiative, creativity, wisdom, perseverance and dedication.

A new leadership for the All-China Women's Federation will be elected at the five-day meeting, which is held once every five years.

As the country's most prominent women's organization, it has set new priorities for women's issues in the next five years, such as combating the continuing discrimination against women in the workplace, making access to education possible for all girls and raising literacy levels among rural women.

The proposed projects are in line with the Millennium Project of the United Nations (UN) and the UN Development Programme.

The UN has set eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education, eliminating gender inequality in access to economic assets and employment and achieving a 30 percent share of seats for women in national parliaments as three of its major millennium development goals.

This meeting is to recommit the nation to improving women's status and welfare. It is expected to work out basic principles and actions for people around the country to follow.

Women are of great and unique value to sustainable development.

Women's advancement is something that can be measured.

The presence of more women in the administration of State and social affairs speaks volumes for the improving status of Chinese women.

Securing the equality of women and men, in law and in fact, is the great political project of the 21st century. A crucial role in the realization of that project has been entrusted to the government and non-governmental organizations, among which the All-China Women's Federation is the one most well placed to represent half of the nation's population.

The representatives of Chinese women are meeting to take that great enterprise forward: to consolidate the legal advances, to build on the political understanding and to commit themselves to action.

The Outline for Chinese Women's Advancement (2001-10) aimed at charting women-friendly policies that will integrate gender issues into all areas, sectors and programmes is one achievement of that new spirit. Our country is looking forward - not simply to achieving economic prosperity, but to building a better future as well.

The recognition of the dignity and worth of women, and the essential contribution of women, on an equal basis with men, to life in all its aspects, is to be an essential element of that better tomorrow.

This meeting is a call to action.

The interpretation and implementation may vary from region to region given that conditions and development differ.

Women's problems will not disappear automatically when the economy progresses rapidly.

Equality of dignity is far from being achieved, with discrimination on the basis of gender still widespread.

Prejudice against women, like an invisible chain, fetters the hearts and minds of millions. Poverty still has a woman's face in many parts of China.

Employment for women remains limited to relatively few fields, and there is only a tiny percentage of women in management positions. Many women are victims of unequal pay for equal work.

Establishing women's legal rights has been high on the agenda of the government. Today, the challenge is how to make the laws take effect in the daily lives of the women.

Real and concrete steps are still required - to ensure equality of opportunity in education, and equality of access to health systems, to jobs and to political power.

There is a long way to go before we have equality between women and men in senior decision-making posts.

Women - their lives, their roles, their aspirations - are the key to development in every dimension. Equality, opportunity and development must reach every woman in our country.

There is growing awareness that attitudes as well as behavior - both of individuals and of institutions - must change to take account of the real rights and real needs of women. Together, we must follow our words with our deeds.

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