First Workplace Gender Discrimination Win In China

A 23-year-old Beijing woman using the pseudonym Cao Ju just won what's thought to be the first case of its kind in China. After being rejected for a job with a private tutoring firm because she was a woman, Ju brought a gender discrimination lawsuit. The company settled, awarding Ju 30,000 yuan (about $5,000) and a formal apology. But the bigger victory here may be the example Ju's lawsuit and victory sets.

Apparently, job discrimination is super widespread in China. In a survey from the All-China Women's Federation, more than 90 percent of female students said they had experienced discriminatory hiring practices. And this isn't subtle, read-between-the-lines sexism we're talking about here. "You can see many companies write 'women not wanted' openly and brazenly in job adverts," Ju's lawyer, Huang Yizhi, told the Guardian. In Ju's case, she was told by Beijing-based Juren Academy that it wanted a man for an administrative position because sometimes the job involved changing the jug on an office water cooler.

Things haven't always been so bad for working women in China, according to the Guardian. "In the Mao era, officials promoted the involvement of women in the public sphere, prompting more to take up 'men's work,'" it notes. Then came the backlash, which has persisted for decades. Chinese women's wages as a proportion of men's fell from 84 percent in 1995 to just 74 percent in 2007. Blatant sexual harassment is common. And state news agency Xinhua cautions that a relaxing of China's family-planning laws could make things worse, as employer worries about women taking more than one maternity leave lead to less hiring and promoting of women.

Despite the fact that Ju's case ended in a mediated settlement, her lawyer is optimistic that it may influence future court decisions and encourage more Chinese women to challenge gender discrimination. Ju said she hopes it will help women to "improve their awareness of their rights and to be more independent."