The mechanisation of women

What we can learn from China’s One-Child Policy

Samantha Wong

PHOTO: Sam Balye

Society and culture | East Asia

25 May 2020

Lessons about female autonomy from the past will be the key to solving the problems of the future, writes Samantha Wong.

We are well into 2020, and it seems the ceaseless consequences of climate change continue to have an alarming effect on our lives. From fiery debates in our politics, to devastating bushfires across our country only months ago, climate change is taking both a physical and psychological toll on people everywhere. In stark contrast, we are now seeing a marked difference in how much carbon we are emitting globally, due to mass inactivity necessitated if we are to fight COVID-19.

Of course, this global pandemic will not last forever, but if anything, it should act as a wakeup call to people around the world. The climate will not fix itself, so the solution I present today is a simple one: give women autonomy over their own bodies.

The impending implications of overpopulation ring out like a death knell, forewarning resource insecurity and increasing global temperatures. With the United Nations predicting the Earth’s population will reach 11 billion by the end of this century, and the escalating frequency and severity of natural disasters, it’s no wonder the fight to safeguard human security has intensified.

So, what can be done about it? What is the most ethical way to decrease the growth rate of our global populace?

It must be understood that in order to prevent overpopulation, countries cannot impinge upon the reproductive rights of women. I’m sure Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale springs to mind when thinking about the state policing the production of children. But outside of dystopian fiction, one doesn’t have to look too far back in time to observe the adverse effects of what happens when women are stripped of their bodily autonomy.

China’s infamous one-child policy, an attempt to boost economic prosperity through the regulation of population growth, had tragic consequences for Chinese women and their families, and has seen a ripple effect of unintended social consequences emerge only now. In the 1970s, 336 million abortions and 196 million sterilizations, as well as infanticide and abandonment occurred due to both the quantity restriction on children, as well as a cultural preference for boys over girls.

One woman, Mao Hengfeng, found her bodily autonomy removed during the one-child policy. Seven-and-a-half months pregnant with her “illegal” fourth child, Mao was forced to have an abortion and look on as her child was drowned to death.

Inevitably, the preference for boys led to a surplus in men and an imbalanced sex ratio of around 120 boys to every 100 girls. The dark reality is that besides a growing demand for sex dolls, the gender disparity between men and women is driving an industry that traffics brides into China from neighbouring countries. In Pakistan, Christian clerics are paid by brokers to seek out brides, some of whom are children, to marry Chinese men. They do so by assuring impoverished families that their daughters will have a better life with a wealthy husband. This has not only occurred in Pakistan, but also North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar. From Northern Myanmar, an astounding 21,000 girls had been trafficked during 2013-2017 into one Chinese province alone.

The one-child policy, though an extreme example of a programme enforced by an autocratic government to prevent overpopulation, serves as a lesson on the injustices caused by the mechanisation of women’s reproductive organs.

The solution isn’t to exercise control over women. The solution is to give control over to women. The education of girls everywhere has been ranked as the number six most effective solution to climate change according to Project Drawdown, as well as many other problems such as extreme poverty and child marriage.

Simply put, this is because when a girl is educated, she is more likely to marry later, and have fewer children and later. That is why a woman’s power to choose to have children is so important. Not only does this mean they understand the means by which to prevent unwanted pregnancy, but they can also provide a greater quality of life for their families.

We take such commodities as contraception and education for granted here in Australia. I’m lucky enough to be empowered by a culture that supports a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body and life. Our shared attitudes towards women make it easy to forget that not all countries afford women the same rights and respect or understand the importance of giving women sovereignty over their bodies.

We must remind them of one simple truth: women are not machines; they are the solution. And though there is still much work to be done to reduce poverty and increase child mortality rates, such as improving healthcare and reducing hunger among other things, the power of education can go far to improve the lives of many.

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