Women Empowerment Conference wraps up in Beijing

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A conference in Beijing focusing on the empowerment of women and the need to achieve equality was held on Sept 13 by the Women Empowerment Council (WEC). The event was opened by Su Cheng Harris-Simpson, founder and president of the Women Empowerment Council, who introduced the aims of the event and thanked attendees for coming.

One of the first speakers was Smriti Aryal, head of UN Women China, who focused on gender equality in the home. Despite improvements, Aryal highlighted how women in the country are still doing 2.5 times more housework than men. She made clear the importance of men doing more at home, as well as the need for policies that can promote a level playing field between the genders, such as options to work flexible hours.

WEC and pharmaceutical giant Merck together released a white paper at the event titled “Healthy Women, Healthy Economies”. The paper’s findings were presented by Merck’s Natascha Braumann and Diane Ho, partner at the WEC.

With China’s birth rate declining for the sixth consecutive year in 2022 and the country’s population now also falling, the paper focused on the burdens an aging population will likely put on women, with females still doing the majority of care work, emphasizing that “women’s health is critical to economic health”.

Research outlined in the white paper countered the widespread assumption that many young Chinese women are reluctant to have children, with a survey conducted in Tier 1 cities finding that the majority of highly educated young women were keen to marry and have at least one child. However, many find themselves struggling to balance the “three big mountains” of work, family and self.

The paper highlighted the need for more support systems for young women as they balance the demands of family and career, as well as better access to sexual and reproductive health services to improve decision making.

Later in the afternoon, attendees were treated to a panel discussion titled “What are Employers and the Medical Industry Doing To Help Women Achieve Work and Life Goals!”

Panelists Roberta Lipson, vice chair of New Frontier Health and founder of United Healthcare, Vivian Zhang, general manager of Merck Healthcare China, and Michael Zhu, HPE’s global vice president and managing director for China, discussed a number of issues with CNBC’s Beijing Bureau Chief Eunice Yoon moderating.

Zhu highlighted his firm’s generous parental leave allowances for employees, with Zhang revealing details of Merck’s women’s leadership group as well as preferential policies to pay for IVF treatment. Lipson made the case for better access to healthcare services and child support.

Following a video interview with Chinese tennis champion Li Na, the event was concluded with closing remarks by Su Cheng Harris-Simpson and Poh-Yian Koh, vice president of operations at FedEx China and WEC Beijing co-chair.

The pair spoke on the topic of how each person can make a contribution to achieving equality for all, including the important role that men can play.

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