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Facing Population Decline, China’s Xi Promotes ’Childbirth Culture’ for Women

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President Xi Jinping underscored his concerns — and more conservative social views — about China’s shrinking population in a speech calling on a key women’s organization to help bolster the nation’s birthrate by promoting a “culture” of childbirth. 

Xi urged the All China Women’s Federation — a government-led organization — to “actively cultivate a new marriage and childbirth culture, strengthen guidance of young people’s views on marriage, parenthood and family, as well as promote policies to support childbirth” at a meeting on Monday, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Read More: China Is Desperate to Boost Its Low Birth Rates. It May Have to Accept the New Normal

The speech appeared to emphasize Xi’s increasing focus on a more traditional, domestic role for women. At the same event in 2018, the Chinese president had called on the federation to “help women better deal with the relationship between family and work.”

The address comes with China’s population in decline after decades of being the world’s most populous nation — a title now held by India. That decline has been exacerbated by the government’s since-abandoned “one-child policy,” which skewed the nation’s gender ratio to favor males, and is expected to have broad ramifications for the world’s second-biggest economy.

Read More: China’s Population Is Shrinking—and Graying. Here’s What It Means for the Future

The country’s birth rate, or the number of newborns per 1,000 people, fell to 6.77 last year, the lowest level since at least 1978. Both India and China have about 1.4 billion people, according to the United Nations. 

Xi has sought to impose his more conservative view about gender onto society since taking power in 2012, even as women become increasingly aware of discrimination they face in China’s paternalistic culture. In a 2013 speech, Xi said it was crucial for women to be “good wives and mothers” to ensure the “healthy growth of the next generation.”

Read More: Why One of China’s Largest Provinces Is Lifting Birth Limits—Even for Unmarried Parents

In a step backward for women’s rights, females were excluded from China’s top-decision making Politburo for the first time in a quarter century at a key leadership reshuffle last year, a meeting at which Xi promoted a slew of older male allies. China’s government has also suppressed a nascent #MeToo movement online, silencing leading feminists’ voices on social media.

The government overhauled an almost three-decades-old women’s rights law last year, urging measures to tackle sexual harassment and eliminate discrimination against women. Still the law’s opening paragraphs told women to “respect family values.” 

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