Edited by Yang
Doomed to Fail: A Feminist Comment on Three-Child Policy in China
The widespread anger of Chinese female netizens against this policy fully shows that this policy is doomed to be ineffective. After the two-child policy has already failed to increase the country’s fertility rate, this policy is a classic example of path dependence that still wishes to boost the birth rate by allowing families to have three children, which reflects the stubborn patriarchal nature of decision-making. Since the initial relaxation of its one-child policy in 2013, the Chinese government’s efforts to prevent population crises have never effectively responded to women’s concerns. Current laws and policies related to women’s rights are basically empty promises that have no actual effect based on the outcome of the implementation. The prevalent pregnancy and maternity discrimination against women in the workplace almost always go unpunished.
The grievances women try to express are either ignored or censored. The decision to have no children or fewer children is a manifestation of women’s increased autonomy, their last resort to escape a discriminatory environment, and their passive resistance to patriarchy. In this case, it is absurd for the state to frame “allowing three children” as a benefit for women, and it is destined to be rejected by the vast majority of women and they will not change their decisions.
Since the beginning of the family planning policy in the late 1970s, Chinese women have been subjected to acute torture as the direct object of birth control. Their suffering due to coercive family planning is still not allowed to be discussed, let alone relief and reparation. Today, the state continues to use women as reproductive tools to increase the birth rate without ever reflecting on coercive birth restrictions. However, Chinese women have not forgotten the abuses their mothers and themselves have experienced. Regarding the issue of childbirth, women have sufficient reasons to distrust the state and full right to not follow the state policy.
Women should not be regarded as the tool to serve any “overall national interests”. Childbirth decisions, childless or having fewer children, should be women’s basic human right. The state’s population policy should start from this bottom line, completely abandon compulsory birth control and abolish family planning policy. To reiterate: Chinese women should not be prescribed by the government for how many children they should/may have.
And, even now the state is in urgent need to restore the fertility rate, there is still no clear sign that the government will officially legalize births outside of marriage. The government still stubbornly binds childbirth to the heterosexual marriage system, which has forced many women to marry unwillingly in order to legally have a child. I see how fearful the government is to imagine losing control of people’s sex, marriage, childbirth, and lifestyle, and also how eager it is to continue to exploit the unpaid labor of women’s reproduction and caregiving to maintain its ruling stability.
Falling fertility rates should promote more public discussions and policy negotiations on women’s rights. However, improving women’s rights is not just a means to increase fertility, nor should women have more children in exchange for more rights. As many women are being bullied for expressing their wills of not getting married or not having children, feminists should not only call on the state to protect women’s reproductive benefits, but also firmly support women’s autonomy to refuse to cooperate with the patriarchy on the issue of childbirth.
It is foreseeable that the new policy will have a more serious negative impact on women’s employment. That is, employers will be more reluctant to hire women due to the “worry” about women’s more frequent childbirth plans in the future. For the past so many years, I have never heard any instance that the government takes the initiative to deal with such discriminatory behaviors. Advocates’ efforts to hold the government accountable have not yet activated the authorities’ sense of responsibility to strengthen relevant law enforcement. Women will continue to fight for their rights in the public and private spheres, sometimes by rejecting the government’s arbitrary intervention, and sometimes by opposing the government’s inaction.