China will only benefit by welcoming women into high-level politics

Andrei Lungu | 8 March 2024

Today, China joins the world in celebrating International Women’s Day. Mao Zedong once famously said that women hold up half the sky. According to World Bank data, China’s female labour force participation rate of more than 61 percent is higher than many developed economies.

Chinese women work alongside men and contribute in almost every domain and at almost every level. All of China reaps the benefits of this participation and representation.

Unfortunately, one glaring exception is arguably the most important – high-level politics. Women have represented only a small percentage of the full members of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee, with no clear upward trend and only slight fluctuations in this figure.

The past two decades represented the pinnacle of female representation in the Politburo, with one woman present among 25 members and even two between 2012 and 2017. But this is no longer the case, as the current Politburo includes only 24 men.

This contrasts with the National People’s Congress, where women represent more than a quarter of members, up from 20 percent two decades ago. But that body lacks the power and influence of the Politburo or the Central Committee. The higher you move up the political ladder in China, the fewer women there are, until they become completely absent.

This isn’t just a problem of representation but a problem of efficient use of human resources. It’s a matter of concern not just for Chinese women but for the whole country. Women gaining greater access and representation in almost every domain creates more human resources, which in turn increases competition and delivers better results for the country.

Excluding an entire category of citizens from a certain field, especially a category that accounts for half of the population, vastly reduces the pool of available talent and competition among existing candidates. High-level officials should be selected from among the best of China’s citizens, whether men or women.

But, in recent decades, women have been passed over for promotions at the highest levels of power. Consider that only a handful of China’s current provincial party secretaries and governors are women. Restricting the pool of candidates inevitably means that some politicians end up in positions of power even though they wouldn’t have been considered amid greater competition.


This article has been previously published in the South China Morning Post. You can read the full article on SCMP’s website.

Photo Credits: The 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2012 (Flickr/Remko Tanis)


Andrei Lungu​

Andrei Lungu is president of RISAP. His research interests include China’s foreign policy and its domestic politics, Sino-American relations and the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific.

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