Role of Women in China and Malaysia

In a modern world, the role of women has become the issue of an international concern. It implies the female status in the society, political rights, job opportunities and the position in the family. Religious and cultural aspects of the problem include the analysis and comparison of the gender equality as the basic right of any woman in the world. Entering of the western culture in a traditional way of living to the East Asian states has both the advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, traditional values fuse and disappear. On the other hand, historically abused women realize their rights and fight for them. The paper analyses and compares the peculiarities of women’s role in China and Malaysia. In the XX century, China had a long period of religious bans and the cultural revolution that prohibited traditional cults. In modern days Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism are the main religious branches, followed by the citizens of the country.  Malaysia is the state with the long living Islamic traditions, where most of the people are Muslims. The comparison of the issues of gender discrimination in each state reveals rude violations against women in the past and shows the progress in fighting for gender equality. The rights of women in China and Malaysia need particular attention, protection and the relevant regulations because historically and traditionally eastern women had many restrictions in their rights and freedoms in comparison to men. Malaysia has considerably advanced in term of the process of democratization of women’s rights while China still has many bans and restrictions, stipulated by the long-living tradition of women’s submission.

Women’s Role in the Society of China and Malaysia

The twentieth century has witnessed many wars and human suffering. At the same time, it brought the mankind to the outstanding of humanitarian achievements and showed people the non-violent ways of rights realization (Imbert, 2004). Nowadays, the public attention in Asian countries is drawn to the rights of women. Undoubtedly, the implementation of the rational labor proportion helps to build social capital and promotes the full use of the potential of the whole society in the interests of the entire country (Custers, 2012).

In Malaysian countries women effectively cooperate in the context of promoting their rights, and in 2013 the International Women’s Summit took place in Kuala Lumpur (Brickner, 2013). In the same way, women in China, try to follow the trends of the international collaboration. However, the role of women in China is generally consistent with national traditions of the Confucian study. The Chinese culture has been long affected by Mao Zedong’s totalitarian model of society, where all the layers of the population were subject to a strong hierarchical system (Kipnis, 2001). Similar to China tradition, Malaysia women had a long history of female submission to the male’s will typical for the Muslim world. Stereotypes, as well as traditional, cultural and religious practices, as well as representations belittled the role of women in Islam. The conducted research has shown that China and Malaysia had countless facts of women’s rights violations in the past and still experience the consequences of the cult of males. 


In China, they long believed that only sons are successors of the family (Rainey, 2010). One of the oldest traditions was the killing of baby girls. With the appearance of a one-child policy in the country, the tradition has acquired a new wing with ultrasound detection of the female sex of the embryo. In such case, the majority of women do abortion, and that leads to a sharp increase and disproportion of the male population in the country. The Chinese authorities have resorted to radical measures that forbid informing parents of the future child’s sex. As the government is trying to strengthen the implementation of a one-child policy, it once again leads the villages to infanticide. Even today, The number of men in China is fifty million more than women. The next century can double this number (Kipnis, 2001). 

Different from China, the Islamic world welcomes the big family and treats woman as the holy being who gives birth. Women are welcome to produce many kids and enlarge the family. If the man is rich, he can afford having several wives and this fact speaks of his higher status. Religious traditions in many Muslim countries teache women to be obedient and helpful to the husband and the other wives for the common good of the family. 

Correspondingly, women in China can live in the big families with up to five wives if the head of the family can afford the maintenance of the women and their kids. However, there were times in China, when women had more freedom, and in literature or art they acted as equal partners of men. However, it was long ago. Starting from VII and VIII centuries, the role of women became limited to the domestic sphere and maintenance functions (Rainey, 2010). The Confucian tradition primarily justifies the dominant position of men towards women. According to the philosopher, women were the creatures who obeyed men (Rainey, 2010). 

For about nine hundred years, in China they exercised a merciless tradition of foot binding (Yao, 2000). It was a custom practiced mostly in aristocratic circles, from the beginning of X to the beginning of XX century. With a strip of cloth, girls tied all the toes to foot, except for a large one. They had to walk in the shoes of a small size, making feet significantly deformed, sometimes making it impossible to walk in the future. These feet were traditionally called Golden Lotus (Yao, 2000). The size of a foot showed the prestige of the bride.  It underlined that the lady, belonging to the high society should not walk alone. This inability to walk without assistance revealed the attractive features of a female aristocrat. Healthy and non-deformed feet were the sign “vile origins” (Yao, 2000).  

The custom of foot-binding was promoted by the dominant philosophy in medieval China Confucianism. Confucius promoted the ancient concept of Yin and Yang, according to which a woman was carrying the weakness and passivity. Foot deformity emphasized that feature of the woman (Yao, 2000). In addition, Confucianism set strict social hierarchy in which a woman was in a subordinate position to a man. Foot binding began before the girl’s foot was even fully formed. Most often it started in the fall or winter, as cold reduced sensitivity to pain and the risk of infection. Formation of the “perfect feet” required about three years. Foot-binding process consisted of four stages. After 4-5 years of regular practice, the pain mitigated. More adult women bandaged their legs by themselves and the practice continued throughout their lives.

Both in China and Malaysia women were only subordinates of man. Their functions were limited to the household maintenance and the birth of kids. With the course of time the situation became milder in the Malaysian families, but in China the social role of women was still limited by the homes of their husband. Malaysia is an example of a liberal approach to the promotion of women’s role in the life of society, despite the fact that traditionally the country belongs to the Muslim world.

Women’s Role in the Religion of China and Malaysia

According to the 2000 census, Muslims made up 60.4% of the population of Malaysia (Brickner, 2013). The country’s religious environment belittled the role of women in all spheres of social life. The government had the task of increasing economic, political and social status of women. China differs from Malaysia in terms of religion, because the majority of the population adhere to Buddhism and the Confucian tradition. In China, the ability to correspond with the required female role needed a long preparation in advance. Neglect of the female offspring was primarily based on the fact that after her marriage a daughter no longer belonged to her family (Rainey, 2010). She already was a member of another family, and visited her own parents rarely and had no responsibility for assisting parents in the old age. It was the task of the sons along with their wives. Baby girls were not allowed to make sacrifices and burn the lanterns. 

Similar to a Chinese tradition, discrimination of women in Malaysian families originates from the long-living submission to men (Libal, 2004). The foot-binding is now in the past, but in Malaysia they have a new revival of a tradition of female circumcision that involves the surgical removal of part or the woman’s entire clitoris (de Bary, 2008). This medical intrusion is classified by the World Health Organization as the female genital mutilation. This injury has no medical indication or health benefits. Moreover, the Bulletin of WHO states that it “reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and is an extreme form of discrimination against women” (Brickner, 2013, p. 112). 

The purpose of the procedure was to kill their natural desire for making love and having pleasure in intercourse. It is believed, that such operation contributes to the women’s loyalty. Such aspect as the pleasure of women is never mentioned. Even today, Malaysian families take young girls to clinics to perform circumcision in order to insure the chance for future marriage. Subconsciously, girls believe that their future husband is the doomed master of their fates and any other concerns and career plans are minor to a profitable marriage. 

In 2012, the General Assembly of the United Nations unanimously adopted a resolution that called female circumcision a “human rights violation” and urged nations to ban the practice (Brickner, 2013). Although circumcision is cruel and in many cases painful, the majority of Muslim women undergo this procedure in Malaysia. In 2012, a research carried by Maztah Dr. Daniel, a professor at the University of Malaya Faculty of Social and Preventive Medicine, showed that 93 percent of Muslim women have already been circumcised (Brickner, 2013). It was, however, shown that the process is often carried out by trained medical professionals in private clinics instead of the traditional practice of circumcision in the past. 

The Malaysian specialists claim that the option of female circumcision in Malaysia is less invasive and traumatic than some types of circumcision, which is practiced in other countries (Cheah, 2002). They often performed the anesthetic injection into the clitoral hood. The procedure is performed with girls aged from one to six years. However, more traumatic methods are also widespread.

Female genital mutilation is not forbidden in Malaysia, though public hospitals are not allowed carry out such operations. In 2009, the Committee for Islamic Religious Affairs of the National Council of Malaysia proclaimed that female circumcision is obligatory for all Muslim women unless contraindicated (Brickner, 2013).

It does not mean, however, that all Malaysians support the resolution. Sayarifatul Adeeb, a senior program officer of Sisters of Islam, the rights groups of local women, insists that sunat (circumcision in the Malaysian language) is never mentioned in the Koran. She believes that the popularity of circumcision is only a tribute to a more conservative interpretation of Islam (Custers, 2012).

Circumcision got the new popularity in the community in 2012, when the Ministry of Health announced that it has developed guidelines for the procedure of reclassification from the category of extremely popular and traditional in the medical category. This fact misleads people (Custers, 2012). However, many Malaysians believe that international organizations do not have to tell them how to live. Abdul Rashid Khan, a professor of local medical college, noted: “The problem with the West is that they can afford to give advice and discuss. Who are they to tell us what to do and what not to do? Many women do it in private hospitals in a safe environment, but making this procedure illegal, will lead circumcision into black market” (Brickner, 2013, p. 113). 

Although, the modern practice of circumcision in Malaysia is not as cruel as the foot binding in China, it has no medical benefits and violates the human right for a fair choice and opportunity. In both countries, religious and social dogmas promoted the suffering and discrimination of their female kids. Moreover, the tradition to foster a girl as the future gift for her husband deprived the young women of the motivation to study and search for professional career opportunities. Nowadays, women redeem their self-consciousness and dignity, and learn to fight for their rights. However, in both countries the effect of male cult is still very strong.  

Women’s Role in the Government of China and Malaysia

Awareness of the fact that women’s rights are an integral and inalienable part of human rights has led to the development of mechanisms for the protection of women’s rights on a state level. Assessing the current situation of women’ role in China and Malaysia, one can see the clear progress in the improvement of the social and political roles and status of females. However, specialists note that the process is not sufficiently dynamic (Rainey, 2010). The problem is in the necessity to change not only the attitude of society towards women, but also in raising women’s self-esteem, self-confidence and independence (Robertson, 1992).

The public status of women in China has been traditionally low (Rainey, 2010). Improving their social situation, finding solutions to national problems and equality with men has become one of the important directions of the state social policy today. The Constitution of China formally unveiled women’s equal rights with men in all spheres of political, economic, cultural, social and family life (Rainey, 2010). It provided regulations that protected female interests such as the laws on marriage, inheritance, guaranteeing their freedoms and interests of women, protection of mother and child health, decisions on the protection of women’s labor. However, the real state of things shows that there are numerous violations and inconsistency between the actual and the desired state of things. The government issued laws regarding the strict punishment of the criminals involved in the kidnapping and selling women and children, but the industry thrives and acquires new forms of abuse. The hierarchy system of the Chinese society contributes to the corruption, hindering the process of democratization of the society and the improvement of women’s political status in the Chinese government. 

On the contrary, the Malaysian governmental system demonstrates many signs of democratization of women’s role in the country’s political life. In 1999, Malaysian activists established an independent Commission on Human rights. In 1975, the National Advisory Committee for the Integration of Women in Development started functioning. In 2001, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Family Development started its activity on legal bases. Malaysia ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 1995, with a lot of reservations, the number of which is gradually being reduced. In 1989, it developed the National Policy on Women, which is closely linked to the system of state planning (Brickner, 2013). Among the initiatives outlined in this document were the gender sensitization of government decisions, the elimination of the gender gap in education process, access to health care, as well as the reduction of women’s poverty. Particular attention is paid to enhancing the political prospective of women. Malaysian women acquired the right to vote in 1957 (Brickner, 2013). At the same time, they received the freedom to participate in the activities of various political parties and comprise among their members. 

Unlike the women in Malaysia, Chinese females see their calling in traditional servitude to men. The proportion of women in leadership positions of the provincial, regional, and county levels shall not exceed an average of 5 percent. At the provincial level, it is even less than 2% (Rainey, 2010). However, representing a low leadership proportion, Chinese women show outstanding results in the labor engagement. According to the research conducted by the International Labor Organization in the late 1990s, the employment rate of women in China was 56% (Rainey, 2010). On this indicator, China ranked first in the world. Almost 40% of the total numbers of working population in China were women. Over 80% of Chinese entrepreneurs, who have recently opened their own small or medium enterprise, were also women (Rainey, 2010). 

Over the past ten years, the government of China developed more several dozens of laws, amended the seven laws related to the protection of women’s rights in China. In the 1990s, the Chinese government has developed the Program of Development of Women in China, putting at the beginning of this century new goals and objectives of this work for the period 2001-2010 (Rainey, 2010).  

In July 2008, the country’s first national museum of women and children was opened. A lot is done to battle the widespread female illiteracy. In recent years, 98.6% of girls of school age are studying, though it is not clear how many of them will finish education (de Bary, 2008). The special role of women in creating a new type of family planning and birth control is in focus of most modern upbringing programs. Late marriage, late pregnancy, control over the number and of kids born in the family. The government promotes small families and the birth of children of both sexes, these way women get more free time and opportunities for the self realization. 

Similar to the political improvements in China, the government of Malaysia issued an Addition to the Federal Constitution, prohibiting the gender-based discrimination in policies in 2001 (Brickner, 2013). Then the Parliament adopted a decision regarding the revision of the Penal Code, which provided sanctions in cases of rape. They also revised the Act protecting women and girls (1973) and the Child Protection Act (1991). The accepted addition to the Employment Act (1995), provided flexible working hours for women, maternity leave up to 60 days, and tax breaks for businesses that organize day care centers in the workplace or in the immediate vicinity (Brickner, 2013).

An equal access to education distinguishes Malaysia from China, where women experience more restrictions of rights and freedoms.  Nowadays, 70% of Malaysian university students are girls (Brickner, 2013). They form a high-quality workforce and have the right to vote. Women there also have the chance to develop and reveal their talents. There are 20 public universities in the country, and the education is quite cheap, sometimes almost free. Men in Malaysia are not similar to men in China. They are not inclined to dominate, control or show autocracy. 

The residents of Malaysia are very religious. Muslim women wear headscarves and follow all the traditions prescribed by their religious guidelines. At the same time, the female population here is very strong. No one will force them to “shut up.” Malaysians are a kind of hybrid between education, political freedom and traditions. Women keep their traditions and the religion, respect the rules, but at the same time they want to be heard, and achieve perfect equality with men.

Many females are in a difficult situation because they combine the roles of mothers, wives, and working women. They can be influential figures, and the balance between these roles depends only on themselves. Working women can hire inexpensive domestic helpers. At the same time, they always take all the children with them. If a woman knows that she can not spend enough time at home, she takes the kids with her when going to work. Organizations usually create a special room where you one can leave the kids. It is a kind of nursery practice.

Now, most families both in China and Malaysia have men and women working. Such an approach ensures a good life conditions for the generations to come and accumulation of capital in the family. At the same time, women in Malaysia show more political will in taking part in public and governmental activity. The leadership of women is tolerated and even welcomed. On the contrary, in China, women persist on the minimization of their political activity and according to Confucian tradition, remain faithful and helpful servers of their men. Chinese government does not promote women’s leadership as it believes it contradictory to Yin entity of the female nature. 


No country in the world has the perfect legislation concerning the realization of the gender equality because of the difference in the society, religion and government. China and Malaysia have managed to establish certain political mechanisms that help women in perception, promotion and realization of their rights. The establishment of national institutions involving women into management gives significant progress in terms of promoting the equality with men both in China and Malaysia. 

Today, the Asian world has marked positive tendencies in the struggle for the rights and freedoms of women. Neither in China, nor in Malaysia female responsibilities are limited to the family and household anymore. Any woman may be engaged in her own business or take an active part in political or public life of the society. Young women tend to get a quality education, to succeed professionally and move up the career ladder. Women tend not to forget their roles of being good mothers and exceptional wives either. They feel more free and confident because they know their rights can and will be protected. 

At the same time women in Malaysia adhere to non effective and sometimes ruinous stereotypes of following the circumcision tradition. Similar to the foot-binding in China, this procedure become a mass obsession among Malaysian women and can hardly be eliminated or treated as the violation of women’s rights in the Muslim world.

In China, the Confucian tradition led to the subconscious cult of man, and women still experience the consequences of such a psychological abuse by the fact of refusal from political and leadership promotion. The women themselves tend to underline their subordinate function in social and political institutions, as well as cultivate their Yin nature. The Chinese society has strong hierarchy system and the liberalization of the women’s rights is subject to it. 

Malaysia has achieved success in the implementation of numerous social programs promoting women’s rights, and they are closer to the western model of equality between men and women than China. However, the adherence to stereotypes and the tribute to fashion lead to the lack of rationalist thinking and critical assessment of cultural traditions.

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