It was a modest protest: about 10 university students in winter coats, waving placards near a government office in Wuhan.
Yet the reason for the demonstration was shocking. The students were protesting against a requirement that women applying for civil service jobs must undergo invasive gynecological examinations.
The demonstrators in Wuhan have joined a growing chorus of Chinese activists who have shone a harsh light on China’s deep-rooted gender inequality and job discrimination.
“Gender discrimination is very widespread and in many senses institutionalized in China,” said Geoff Crothall, communications director for the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin. “What’s been increasing in the past few years is the number of women in social and civil society activism groups who are standing up and demanding change.”
A picture of the protest on Monday, which appeared in the state-run Legal Daily newspaper, shows seven women standing outside a provincial government office, arms crossed defensively. They wear what look like giant underpants, each emblazoned with the Chinese character meaning “examine” — struck through with a red line.
The regulations that provoked the protest have been in force since 2005, and require women applying for civil service jobs to undergo invasive testing for sexually transmitted diseases and malignant tumors. Applicants have also been asked to provide information on their menstrual cycles.
“Through this demonstration, we call on government departments to drop the examinations,” a protest organizers told the Legal Daily.
In March, the Beijing-based non-profit social justice group Yirenping Center sent an open letter to government agencies, including the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, protesting against the gynecological examinations, but it received no reply.
“Sexually transmitted diseases can’t be transmitted at work, so we think it’s unnecessary to test for them — and the tumor examinations, these are unnecessary as well,” said Huang Yizhi, a lawyer with the center. “If I’m going to the hospital in order to find work, is it really necessary to examine so many things, even those relating to my extremely private parts?”
Elsewhere, about 20 women across the country shaved their heads in protest against discriminatory college admissions standards. Some university departments have demanded higher admissions exam scores for women than men. The education ministry approved the practice “in view of considerations of national interest,” it said.