Legal scholars yesterday urged the government to improve laws to better protect women's rights and further eliminate discrimination.
"China still has a long way to go to solve the problems hindering gender equality. These problems exist even in legislation," Li Mingshun, professor of law and vice-president of Beijing's China Women's University, said during an advocacy event organized by the UN to celebrate International Women's Day.
At the event, the UN Theme Group on Gender announced a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of the struggle for gender equality in cooperation with the All-China Women's Federation (ACWF).
The campaign, slated to last for three years, will allow women and men to become familiar with the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
In addition to promoting discussions on better awareness of gender equality, panelists also discussed other challenges that women face in China.
Khalid Malik, UN Resident Coordinator in China, said one of the particularly acute gender issues in the country was the imbalance in the ratio of newborn girls to boys.
"It is the manifestation of social attitudes towards gender, and may have serious implications for the future of the country," he said.
Zou Xiaoqiao, director-general of department of international affairs of ACWF, pointed out that attention has to be paid to women's participation in government-level decision-making.
"The ratio of female leaders in diplomatic and management positions in the government has remained low," Zou said.
She also called for efforts to protect the rights of rural women and guarantee equal wages. Li's speech drew particular attention for pointing out the legal problems which are preventing elimination of discrimination against women in China. For example, he said, the current draft property law does not include clauses specifying gender equality.
He added that the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979, clearly defines the term "discrimination against women".
But the definition has not been incorporated into Chinese laws, even though China ratified it in 1980. Besides technical difficulties during the drafting of the legislation, traditional stereotypes (against women) that exist both in mind and action have prevented the legislation process from adopting the international convention, he said.
He added that the public still lacks a clear recognition of the standing and effectiveness of the Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Women, promulgated in 1992 and revised in 2005.
"People tend to ignore this statute and they believe that it cannot serve as the legal base for the judiciary and law enforcement agencies," he said.
Li said the concept of gender equality should be reflected in every law or regulation, ensuring women's rights are protected throughout society.