Seven young women here have defied authorities to ignite a grassroots confrontation with the Chinese Ministry of Education on gender discrimination.
Four of them shaved their heads Aug. 30 in the center of Guangzhou, in Guangdong province. They were protesting gender discrimination in university admission policies. After the story gained traction via China’s microblog, Sina Weibo, a woman named Xiong Jing and two female friends followed suit the next day in Beijing.
The women object to several universities across China that make it easier for men than women to gain acceptance. It comes down to the all-important National Higher Entrance Exam, or GaoKuo. In the United States, students applying to college can take the SAT multiple times. In China, however, there is only one shot at the exam.
More than 9 million students took the test last year. A student’s score is essentially the only thing universities consider in deciding acceptance. And the required score for men is lower than it is for women at several Chinese universities. Ouyang Le, from Guangzhou, was one of the protesters. Her hair is slowly growing back.
She enrolled in college but is not happy or excited about it at all, she said. Her dream was to go to the University of International Relations in Beijing. She scored an impressive 614 on her entrance exam. But the required score for women there is 628; for male students it is 609.
International relations is among the subjects that differentiates score requirements based on gender. Others include the arts, language studies and national defense.
Ouyang says the government must address the issue. Her defiance in Guandong was notable in that she chose to shave her head in a public place. Any kind of public protest is strictly forbidden in China without government approval, which she did not have.
Huang Yizhi, a Beijing-based lawyer, and Lu Pin of the Media Monitor for Women Network sent a letter in July to the Ministry of Education asking to clarify which universities and what majors have different standards based on gender, and why.
In a letter shared with The New York Times, the ministry said, “In view of considerations of national interest,” to meet personnel training needs in some areas or specialties, “a few colleges may appropriately adjust the enrollment ratios of men and women.”
The Zhongze Women’s Legal Counseling and Services center, a nonprofit legal services group, says it has taken on the case. Lu Xioaquan, a lawyer there, told ABC News that gender discrimination in education has a long history. Lu says that if the Ministry of Education does not provide a satisfactory response, his organization is prepared to sue the government.
“[The law] in China forbids gender discrimination on several grounds; every citizen should have equal rights to education,” he says. “We will not give up fighting for equality, even though we know it’s going to be a long, tough road.”
While shaving their hair off, the four women reportedly sang together, “I am as strong as you are, and am putting all I have into chasing my dream.”
Ouyang, the student who wanted to attended the University of International Relations in Beijing, had no choice but to enroll in Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. But she said she will continue fight against sex discrimination even if she is never accepted to the school of her dreams.