What really limits women’s freedom of birth?

“On March 25, 2016, the Lanling Police Station in Shangdong, China received a call. The caller, Ms. Lee, reported that her parent-in-law had smashed and totaled her car. When the police got to the crime scene, Ms. Li told them that the conflict broke out because her in-laws want her to have a second child ever since the termination of the One-Child Policy. Ms. Li and her husband are not affluent and they both have to work full-time to make ends meet. The family has already quarreled about caring for the first child, so much so that Ms. Li’s father-in-law has beaten her and she has considered divorce. When her in-laws approached again that day about having a second child, her refusal infuriated them and they smashed her car.” [1]

Ms. Li is not a lone case in modern day China. Many young women are coerced into pregnancy and motherhood by their families. In traditional Chinese value, carrying on the family lineage is the most important role, and some would say the only role, of women and wives. Professor Zhang Baichuan, a prominent AIDS prevention expert once said “Our culture treats reproduction as the only purpose of sex. It mistakes ignorance for purity, stupidity for virtue, prejudice for principle.” [1]

Women in China are now receiving the same education as men and becoming economically independent and socially respected. They see themselves as equals with men, but in their family lives they are often trapped by traditional thoughts. The older generation expects women to prioritize families, and takes for granted their sacrifices. But the young women think that it is their right to pursue their own dream.

I think the freedom to choose when and how to give birth is a woman’s basic human right. It is immoral to deny women the right of autonomy over their own bodies. Women should not be treated as breeding machines!

Families are not the only hindrance to woman’s ability to choose when to give birth. They experience injustice in the labor market and has to be strategic about when to have a child as well as whether to reveal it to the employer.

Ye Le joined her current company in August 2015. She already has one kid and was planning to work in the new company for two years and get adjusted before having a second child. Unexpectedly, she found out that she was pregnant during her probation period. [2]

Ye Le knew that the company would not keep her if they found out about her pregnancy. She deliberately concealed her pregnancy throughout her probation period and was offered a long-term position. When the boss eventually found out about her pregnancy, he felt cheated and remarked to her sarcastically “You were too smart for your own good.” [2]

Legally speaking, China officially ended its One-Child Policy in January 2017 and began encouraging all families to have two children. In reality, women cannot freely admit their pregnancy in the workplace. During the One-Child Policy era, companies have favored mothers over nulliparous women knowing that they would not have to offer mothers maternity benefits. The termination of this policy has led to new social issues.

My suggestion

In order for women to truly exercise the freedom to choose their childbirth, they need to be protected by the law.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, effect September 1981, mandated that “States Parties condemn discrimination against women in all its forms, agree to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women” [3] Article 16 states that “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations and in particular shall ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women…The same rights to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights” [4] As a State Party that has rectified this Convention, China should establish more concrete legal protection of women’s reproductive right and offer programs to empower women to exercise these rights. This includes:

  • Having a clear and concrete definition of reproductive right and appropriate legal protection when it is violated
  • Having labor laws that requires equal employment practices and offer favorable benefits to women and mothers. There are many international best practices that China can emulate.
    • France offers a government stipend to pregnant women. There is also a policy preference towards daycare centers and pre-schools.
    • Singapore offers long maternity leave and a daycare stipend.
    • Russia started offering a 5000-11000 ruble monthly stipend to families with three or more kids up until the age of three. Women can enjoy 4.5 years of maternity leave after having a third child. It is illegal to terminate these women during maternity leave and the maternity leave time counts towards year of service.

Work Cited





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