IA Engagement: Women, Peace and Security in China’s Patriarchy

Lily Yan, Guest Writer

Shockingly, China has made great strides in the effort to achieve gender equality and promote women’s rights from when it was founded. In recent years, women in China have been more dedicated to women’s rights movements. Many women gradually became aware of the inequalities in their society. Positive change has accelerated greatly since the establishment of the CCP in 1921. However, in recent years, many have come to realize that women’s experiences in this patriarchal society have worsened, despite the changes made that the Chinese government kept praising themselves. Less than 8% senior leadership positions in the nation are held by women. Only about 4.5% of military personnel are women. Recently, prevalent rhetoric in China has been that: “good women do not go over 110 pounds.” Initially, this rhetoric has been used to confine and condemn the appearances of female celebrities.

Nevertheless, the popularity and publicity of this misogynistic rhetoric has made many women around the country crave skinny bodies — using extremely unhealthy methods like starving themselves, doing surgeries, or consuming harmful medicines in order to fit the social standards. Such behavior is only a tiny part of what today’s patriarchal society in China has brought. Suppose there are no changes to women’s role as victims and the long-lasting cultural and structural barriers that create boundaries or even violence. In that case, there will be more societal problems in China. Therefore, in this report, I will discuss the effect of toxic masculinity and misrepresentations in China’s patriarchal society on Women, Peace & Security.

Research shows that under a patriarchal society, although progress has been made in the past century, women in China still lack agency in politics. Hence, long-term goals and action plans must be made for the country to further advance rights for women. It is horrifying how many women are under the negative impact of media misrepresentation. Men in China have a long history of being the dominant societal power. They add boundaries to how women should look and turn them into structural and cultural barriers that women often face at school, their careers and in relationships. In the last decade, with the push of consumerism and this toxic masculinity, the media has begun to convey radical messages that create unrealistic beauty standards, which put undue pressure on women. The standard emphasizes three words: “white, young, skinny”. In this culture, men are told to be stronger than women: they want women to be under their control. When this is not happening, when men cannot reach this basic cultural requirement, they pressure women — forcing them to look more fragile to control them. Especially the word “young,” in this case, has nothing to do with age. It is used to describe someone that looks innocent or even weak. Both toxic masculinity and misrepresentation of women in the media contribute to women’s lack of agency in political fields. When women are confined to being a certain weight, their values, which make them different individuals, are compromised. They will focus more on “how to gain a perfect body” or “how to lose weight” instead of having higher self-esteem, personal interest and intersectionality that differentiates them from other women. This leads to objectification from both themselves and others, often resulting in the entire female population being categorized as a “social out-group,” which reduces their participation in positions of power. Security programs controlled by the government in China lack women’s participation, making them less diverse in terms of perspectives. This makes it easier for the nation to get involved in conflicts, due to men’s unwillingness to compromise.

Under the influence of the wry beauty standards and political tensions both happening domestically and internationally, women’s rights movements in China have become very challenging. This has led to many radicals that lack proper education on “women’s rights” and thus promote flawed information in the media. For instance, on one of the social media software, a government official account posted pictures of male warriors and praised their hard work. Uninformed radical feminists then began accusing the official of not posting women’s pictures, which soon led to massive controversies regarding radical feminism. Due to minimal gender education, few people in China are aware of the boundary between radical feminism and regular women’s rights movements. Moreover, the lack of education directly leads to misunderstandings and hatred against all women-centered subjects, thus reducing the possibility that women in China could participate in positions of power.

The lack of gender-related education in patriarchal China not only creates many radicals in women’s empowerment but also brings about many other problems. For example, the Chinese government often emphasizes how excellent their approaches protect women’s equal access to health care. However, they lack one extremely important thing to all women: reproductive rights. Reproductive rights can be defined as the legal ability to make decisions about when and if you have a child. China was well known for its one-child policy enacted in 1980, which led to the deaths of 28 boys per 1000 live births and 33 girls per 1000 live births in the first decade of the policy. Starting in May 2021, it transformed into the three-child policy . These policies, including new ones that add boundaries to which women can abort or give birth to their children — so that the country’s gender demographics remain balanced — contradict the claims and promises to empower women’s rights and improve equal healthcare. Those policies enacted by the government are starting to make many Chinese women think they are being treated as birthing tools rather than equals to their male counterparts. 

China was one of five countries that voted in favor of a recent draft resolution proposed by Russia on Women’s Peace and Security (WPS)(NGOWG Office). The resolution attempted to water down the agenda of the current WPS action plans on vital issues, including “women’s human rights, prevention of conflict-related sexual violence, support for diverse women’s civil society and women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in all aspects of peace and security.” This weakens some of the government’s words and messages that claim to contribute to women’s rights and gender equality.

The government has been contributing to solving or raising awareness on some issues regarding women’s rights and empowering women on a national scale:

  1. The Chinese Ambassador has spoken about numerous goals China has in different UN security council open debates on WPS. An example would be “Strengthen the protection of women in conflict areas in every way possible and make no exception”. Unfortunately, China has yet to be able to adopt a National Action Plan on WPS resolution 1325 (Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom).
  2. China has an increasing inclusion of women in many areas. Women’s mean years of schooling increased from 6.5 to 7.7 from 2017 to 2021; women’s financial inclusion was 76.4 in the year 2021, surpassing many countries along the way; and women in parliament seats increased from 23.7 to 24.9 from 2017 to 2021.
  3. Last year, a new revision was made to overhaul protections for women’s rights.

However, there was much skepticism regarding this law due to official news sources connecting the three-child policy to this revised law and some contradicting actions like rejecting sexual harassment lawsuits. Many worries that this may foreshadow the campaign to encourage childbirth could turn coercive. These data prove some evidence of progress in recent years regarding women’s rights. However, to reach positive peace and more involvement of women in political fields, the wider culture of the patriarchal society has to be changed.

The first possible solution would be to enhance youth education. Younger generations need adequate education regarding gender equality in order to understand the importance of women’s participation in security fields and how it contributes to resolving conflicts. Thus, the government should put sufficient funds into youth education to change the structure and culture of the patriarchal society so that violence is not only temporarily masked.

The second solution is to restrict media misrepresentation and reduce the abuse of consumerism. When children are restricted from highly biased media representation, exposed to abusive consumerism and receive adequate gender-related education, they are more likely to escape from the “modeling-for-violence” process. They would have a non-biased perspective toward this subject area, resulting in gender equity.

The third solution would be to enforce equal access to opportunities for both genders. Women should be given equal access, as men do, to all different kinds of opportunities in different fields. For example, women should be accepted, with equal chances as men, into the military and enjoy equal opportunities for promotion.

The fourth solution is to create policies to reduce inequity in political fields. In China, most women are still exposed to toxic masculinity, which means only giving them access to limited opportunities, is not sufficient. There needs to be the enforcement of laws to regulate male-dominated political fields.

The fifth one is to have gender inclusiveness in all areas. Women’s perspectives must be considered when implementing policies, especially in security fields, to reduce potential violence and impulsive political acts that may result in war and thus destabilize society. 

The last one would be to eliminate structural and cultural barriers. This is important because laws need to be explicitly implemented targeting structural barriers against women to prevent more modeling or opportunities for society to grow cultural barriers against women. This would bring positive peace instead of negative peace.  

To conclude, men in China must realize that the WPS policy framework and gender equality are not only women’s issues; they are issues that are vital to the nation’s peace and security. Unfortunately, China’s large population bound it to a long journey in adopting a national plan on UNSCR 1325 and changing its cultural and structural barriers against women. However, it is never too late to work harder in accelerating the realization of gender equality and women’s empowerment and contributing to women’s development around the world.


This article serves as an engagement for the author’s Global Politics Internal Assessment. It has been edited for length and clarity and to uphold Inkwell’s standards for published content.