Protecting women from discrimination by… banning them from ‘unsuitable’ jobs!

// 16 October 2007

The Chinese government has passed legislation that sets out which jobs are “unsuitable” for women to perform, reports China Daily. It quotes a “senior labour official” as saying, with a notable lack of irony, that this will be an advancement of women’s employment rights.

“We have observed in the past that some employers gave no excuse, but refused to recruit female workers because they wanted to,” Zhang Xiaojian, vice-minister of labor and social security, said.

“But if we can identify which jobs are definitely not suitable for women by law, the situation might change.

Um. What!?

So, what are these jobs that are unsuitable for women?

The labor ministry also identifies several jobs that are unsuitable for women in an administrative regulation, which include working in mines, lumbering, the installation and removal of scaffolding and carrying material weighing more than 20 kg and over six times an hour.

Now, given that figures from a few years ago show that 6,000 miners died in China in 2003, setting the mortality rate at 12 fatalities per million tonnes of coal, it could be argued that it isn’t, in fact, very safe for anyone to work in many of these mines.

But the answer, of course, is to raise safety standards, not to ban women from working in those sorts of environments:

Vice-President of China Women’s University Li Mingshun said that while he appreciated the “goodwill” of the administration to ensure equal job opportunities and a fair employment environment, he said it should fully evaluate the potential negative impacts of the restrictions.

“Instead of specifying the jobs in the law, I would prefer highlighting the protection measures to ensure the safety of women when they are engaged in some dangerous jobs,” Li said.

I agree with Li Ying, deputy director of the Center for Women’s Law & Legal Services of Peking University:

Some jobs are not suitable for women when viewed from a traditional perspective, but some women may want to choose where they work. I don’t want to see this (law) becoming another example of work discrimination.

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