Research reveals challenges facing Chinese girls (part 1)

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In order to analyze the emphases and trends from academic research on the development of Chinese girls in recent years, researchers from the School of Sociology and Population Studies at the Renmin University of China conducted a systematic study on the development status of Chinese girls over the past decade.

Although there have been improvements in areas such as survival, health, and education, there is still a gender gap leading to unbalanced and insufficient development, the study found. The increasing population mobility and the development of information technology have also posed new challenges to girls’ development.

The research shows a trend of multi-disciplinary coexistence and gradually enriched research questions, but there are still problems such as low theoretical awareness, less empirical research literature, rough classification of research objects, and weak research continuity.

Old problems remain

With the implementation of a series of policies and charity projects aimed at protecting girls’ rights and interests and improving girls’ welfare, such as “Caring for Girls”, China’s sex ratio at birth has declined, and the number of girls dropping out of school has decreased. Other basic rights and interests are still being damaged to various degrees due to differences between regions, urban and rural areas, and family socioeconomic status.

In the past decade, academics have researched some of the “old problems” such as the gap in various indicators of survival and development between boys and girls — from focusing on the overall situation to key areas and fields, from sorting out phenomena to digging out causes, and from the study of macro-dominant gender differences to the study of deeper-level discrimination such as micro-family resource allocation.

By focusing on how to solve problems, the studies highlight the special problems that girls face in their own survival and development and look to build a girl-friendly social environment on the basis of child development.

New problems begin to emerge

The intensification of population mobility and the advancement of information technology have brought profound changes to Chinese society and presented three major challenges to the development of girls, according to the research.

First, large-scale urban-rural migration has spawned a large group of left-behind girls (who stayed in rural areas, separated from their parents) and migrant girls (who followed their parents to the cities). Patriarchal concepts like “preferring boys to girls” in rural society has damaged the rights and interests of both left-behind and migrant girls in terms of their health, safety and development.

In recent years, the number of violent incidents against girls, including sexual assault, school bullying and abuse, has increased, pushing more researchers to focus on the development of a judicial system and policy framework that combines prevention and punishment.

In addition, inherent biases and sociocultural norms in the digital era also limit girls’ ability to develop digital skills and performance in related disciplines and fields such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), thereby limiting women’s opportunities to benefit from digital transformation.

As children interact more frequently with information producers through the internet, girls’ self-recognition and development are more likely to be negatively impacted by the amplified traditional gender concepts through various social media platforms.

The study of girls is complex

The issue of girls is not only a simple intersection of issues related to children and women, but also rooted in the collision and integration of various fields such as social economy, politics, and culture, the researchers argue. Therefore, the study of girls is not a single subject, and requires the attention of many social science disciplines.

In the past decade or so, researchers from education, management, sociology, economics, law, psychology and medicine have all paid different degrees of attention to the development of girls, and the multidisciplinary background provides a better understanding of the development of girls in China.

According to a total of 219 works included in the analysis section of the study, researchers summarized the following characteristics:

  1. The problems related to girls are embedded in the social structure, and the research results show interdisciplinary characteristics. More than half of the studies use the disciplinary methods or theories of pedagogy, psychology and social medicine. Girls’ education and survival and health are important topics in the research on problems facing girls.
  2. The research institutions focusing on girls’ development are mainly universities specializing in humanities and social sciences, but few academics continue to pay attention to the problems.
  3. The research objects are mainly rural girls. In the context of rural society, the research on girls’ problems often reveals the characteristics of focusing on more vulnerable groups.