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Trade Liberalization, Social Policy Development and Labour Market Outcomes of Chinese Women and Men in the Decade After China’s Accession to the World Trade Organization

image of Trade Liberalization, Social Policy Development and Labour Market Outcomes of Chinese Women and Men in the Decade After China’s Accession to the World Trade Organization

How trade liberalization affects women’s position in the labour market and what role public policy should play to make the process work better for women are among some of the most debated issues in academic communities and in policy-making arenas. This work sheds light on these contentious issues by analysing the trends in labour market outcomes of women and men in China in the decade after its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The publication reviews the changes associated with China’s economic reforms and opening to international trade and investment since the process started in the late 1970s. Since the early 2000s, a wide range of policy measures have been introduced to strengthen labour market regulations, reduce inequality and increase social security. However, most of these policy initiatives were ‘gender neutral’, paying inadequate attention to the institutional constraints that disadvantaged women in the labour market.

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Economic transition and women’s work prior to the early 2000s

During the Mao era (1949–1976), China achieved greater gender equality in the workplace. This can be attributed to a socialist labour system modelled in accordance with the theory of Marx and Engels that social production is an integrated process of the production of material products and the reproduction of human beings (Engels 1972; Grapard 1997). However, at the time, China’s labour force was segregated by a household registration system called hukou. Individuals born in cities received ‘non-agricultural hukou’ while those born in rural areas held ‘agricultural hukou’. More than 80 per cent of the population held an agricultural hukou in the pre-reform period (Cheng and Selden 1994). The two types of hukou holders had markedly different entitlements to employment, income, social welfare and protection and public services.

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