September 27, 2022

When Chan Chang heard about the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, she was puzzled that Americans were still arguing about abortion rights.

“Here, in general, society does not encourage abortion,” said Ms. Zhang, a 37-year-old junior teaching member at a prestigious university on the east coast of China, “but I feel that a woman has a right as to whether she wants an abortion.”

Abortion, like almost all reproductive issues in China, is largely centered on the power of the Chinese Communist Party. For decades the party has forced women to have abortions and sterilizations as part of its one-child policy. Now, faced with a demographic crisis, it wants women to have more than one child — and preferably three.

But Beijing still dictates who can have children, and discriminates against single women like Ms. Zhang and minorities through strict family planning policies. The question now, many women say, is why they choose to have children at all.

With China’s birth rate at a historically low level, officials have been handing out taxes, housing credits, educational benefits and even monetary incentives to encourage women to have more children. However, the privileges are only available to married couples, a prerequisite that is not increasingly attractive to independent women who, in some cases, prefer to be single parents.

Children born to single parents in China have long struggled to access social benefits such as medical insurance and education. Unmarried and pregnant women are regularly denied access to public health care and insurance covering maternity leave. They do not have legal protection if their employers fire them for being pregnant.

Some single women, including Ms. Zhang, simply choose not to have a child, quietly resisting Beijing’s control of women’s bodies. Those who find ways to get around the rules often face consequences from the state.

“A lot of people think that being a single mother is a process of confrontation with public opinion, but it’s not,” said Sarah Gao, 46, a single mother who lives in Beijing and speaks openly about reproductive rights. “It’s actually this system.”

Chinese law requires a pregnant woman and her husband to register their marriage to receive prenatal care at a public hospital. When Ms. Zhao learned she was pregnant, she had to tell doctors at a hospital that her husband was abroad to be admitted.

Her daughter was born in November 2016. Eight months later, Ms. Zhao was fired from her job, which prompted her to file a lawsuit accusing the company of workplace discrimination. The company won because Ms. Zhao did not qualify for benefits and legal protections as an unmarried mother.

The court said her unmarried birth was “not in line with China’s national policy”. It resumes for the third time.

China’s National Family Planning Policy does not explicitly state that an unmarried woman cannot have children, but it does define the mother as a married woman and favors married mothers. The villages offer cash rewards to families with new children. Dozens of cities have expanded maternity leave and added an extra month for married mothers for the second and third time. One province in northwest China is even considering a year-long vacation. invent someparenting breaksFor married couples with young children.

But localities do little to reverse the demographic crisis, especially in the face of China’s steadily declining marriage rate, which hit a 36-year low last year. Women who came of age during the greatest period of economic growth in China’s modern history are increasingly concerned that their hard-earned independence will be robbed if they settle down.

A politician at the recent annual meeting of China’s final legislature proposed that the party be more tolerant of unmarried women who wish to have children, and give them the same rights as husbands. Yet even as a shrinking population threatens Beijing’s long-term economic ambitions, Chinese authorities have often failed to introduce lasting political changes.

Authorities moved last year to scrap the use of “social support” fees – a form of punishment – paid by single mothers to get benefits for their children. But some areas have been slow to adopt the new rules, and regulations can vary because implementation is up to the discretion of local governments. Recent Changes in Chinese Law make it illegal To discriminate against children of single parents, but some women still have to deal with an unsympathetic bureaucracy.

Last year, the landlocked province of Hunan said it would consider offering fertility services to single women, but it made little progress. When Shanghai decided to drop its policy of granting maternity benefits only to married women, it reversed the decision after only a few weeks, emphasizing how difficult it was to loosen its grip on family planning.

“At the societal level, it poses a threat to the legally recognized institution of marriage and social stability,” said Cheng Mu, an assistant professor of sociology at the National University of Singapore who studies fertility in China.

Ten years ago, she married Kelly Shea, 36, because she wanted to have a baby. “I had reached that age at the time, then I was picking and picking and it seemed like it was the most appropriate,” she said. Four years later, she gave birth to a daughter, but was not happy with her marriage.

Her mother-in-law was fond of her husband and was quick to criticize Mrs. Xie if anything was broken in the house, sometimes calling her at work to complain about the dust in the corner or the unwashed dish in the sink.

Now divorced, Ms. Shi said she would like to have a second child on her own, but her options are limited. One possibility is to travel abroad to perform in vitro fertilization, or IVF, which can be prohibitively expensive for some women. Currently, Ms. Xie is searching the internet, hoping to find someone willing to help her get pregnant the old-fashioned way.

Ms Xie said providing single mothers with maternity insurance to cover the costs of fertility services such as IVF would be a great source of support for single women. In Beijing, for example, married women can now freeze their eggs and get other subsidized IVF services under the city’s medical insurance benefits, part of a new “fertility support” policy.

IVF is illegal for unmarried women almost everywhere in the country, so Li Shuichi traveled to Thailand when she was 29 to have the procedure there. The businesswoman who made her fortune running modeling schools, Mrs. Lee told herself that if she did not find a man she wanted to marry at the age of thirty, she would have a child on her own.

She ended up with triplets, and after nearly three years, she hasn’t regretted her decision.

said Ms. Lee, who does not need any financial assistance from the government and can hire nannies to help take care of her children.

But even among the most educated and accomplished women in China, Ms. Li is an anomaly. Many successful women who wanted to have a child but the state’s policies towards single mothers decided not to get pregnant.

“If you really want to have a child without a man, you have to fight for it,” said Ms. Zhang, a faculty member.

Claire Vogue And the zixu wang Contribute to research.

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