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Speech by Ambassador Zhang Weidong of China at the Meeting of the Icelandic Women Entrepreneurs

Dear ladies, distinguished guests,

Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to be invited to attend today´s meeting. In a few days, it will be 8th March, the International Women´s Day. Please allow me to extend my congratulations to all women present today. Wish you an Happy holiday! March the 8th is one of China´s Constitutional holidays. All women in China will enjoy half day off while men will have to work. This little distinction actually reflects the significant rise of Chinese women´s social status in the past half century. Now I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some information about women´s social status in today´s China and that of the Chinese women entrepreneurs.

Part One: Women´s Social Status in Today´s China

For thousands of years in the past, women in China, constrained by feudal morals, were in subordinate status without independent personalities or political and social positions. Dramatic changes have been taken place in Chinese women´s social status since the New China, i.e. the Peoples' Republic of China, was founded in 1949. At the beginning of the founding of the New China, Chairman Mao Zedong advocated the idea of 'men and women are equal and women hold up half the sky'. Prescribed by the Common Program of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, which was passed in September 1949 and acted as temporary constitution, the Government of the People´s Republic of China abolished the women-bounding feudalism and Chinese women began to enjoy equal political, economical, social and educational rights as men. Chinese women´s social status has achieved great-leap-forward development in the past 66 years.

Firstly, on economical independence. More and more women go to work with equal labour rights. There were only 600 thousand women working in China in 1949 and took a very low portion of the whole labourers. In 2013, 346 million women were working in China and accounted for 45% of the whole labour force. Pay gap between men and women in China has been narrowing and equal pay for equal work is generally being practiced all over China.

Secondly, on political position. They began to enjoy equal political rights since 1949 and political participation of Chinese women has been strengthening and a lot of female politicians have emerged. There have been woman vice president of China, woman Vice Premier, woman ministers, woman governors and woman mayors. In 2013, 47.8% of the newly enrolled civil servants of central government agencies in China were women. According to the 2013 edition of white paper Gender Equality and Women's Development in China, 31% of China's diplomats were women. Among them were 12 woman ambassadors, 19 woman consul-generals and 132 woman counsellors.

Thirdly, on education level. In 1949, there were only 23.2 thousand female university students in China, while in 2012 this figure stood at 12.28 million, accounting for 51.35% of the total number of university students. There were more female university students than male students. In 2014, the proportion of higher learning female students accounted for 52.1% of undergraduates, 51.6% of postgraduates and 36.9% of students studying for Ph. D degrees. As the rising of education level, the number of woman writers, artists and scientists is increasing. Ms. Tu Youyou, first Chinese winner of Nobel Prize in medicine, is an outstanding representative of them.

Fourthly, on the status in marriage and family. Chinese women's rights on free marriage had been ignored for thousands of years and the "parents' opinion" played a decisive role in women's marriage in China. Since 1949, after four amendments of Chinese marriage law, marriage and family relations in China have been developing toward civilization, harmony and modernization. A marked improvement has been seen in gender equality in marriages and families. Chinese women's rights of marriage freedom have been well guaranteed and the freedom to choose spouse has become the mainstream of the society. Additionally, Chinese women have more say on major issues in family. According to a survey conducted by Chinese Academy of Social Sciences more than 70%of women have taken part in making major family decisions. For example, In 2013, 61% of the wives participated in the decision of investment or loan and 71% of them participated in the decision of buying an apartment or a car in a Chinese family.

Part Two: Women Entrepreneurs in China

In modern China, women enjoy equal rights as men in doing business and more and more women tend to start up their own business. The number of female entrepreneurs keeps growing, now accounting for one quarter of the total number of entrepreneurs in China. To sum up, there are four reasons for that.

The first one is because the significant rise of women's social status in China. It lays solid foundation for Chinese women entrepreneurs to start up their own business. On this foundation, Chinese women are able to develop themselves more freely.

The second one is because of the increasing liberal of social opinion. Chinese society is becoming more and more open and public opinion no longer interferes in women's choice of their career. Chinese women can choose stable jobs as civil servants or teacher, and they can also do something more challenging such as becoming self-employed or running business. Many family businesses have broken the tradition of male inheritance and been passed to female inheritors. For example, Country Garden, one of the biggest real estate companies in China, was inherited by the founder's daughter.

The third one is because of the advancement of technology. Internet economy in China is growing rapidly and volume of e-commerce in China was 2 trillion US dollars in 2014. New technology and new business modes are favourable for women to be self-employed. About 55% of new Internet businesses are being founded by women. Under the Alibaba's subordinate company Taobao, women are both main force of consuming and active sellers. According to statistics of Taobao, 50.01% of the sellers are women and their business areas cover clothes, accessories, cosmetics, electronics and furniture. Running an online store has been one of the top options for Chinese women to start business career and improve their economic conditions.

The fourth one is because of the demonstration effect of successful businesswomen in China. Among those first women entrepreneurs in China, many are very successful and some rank on Chinese rich list. According to 2015 Hurun Chinese Rich List, 21% of the richest persons in China are women. They do business of electronics, real estate, internet, paper-making, finance, among others. Over 60% rich women started from scratch. Highest-ranking woman on that list, Ms. Zhou Qunfei (17th) works on manufacturing of cell-phone accessories and she owns assets of 7.7 billion US dollars. Inspired by those examples of success, more and more Chinese women start their own business. According to statistics of Boston Consulting Group of the U.S. in 2014, self-employed U.S. women took up 10 percent of the whole population from age 18-64, while the figure of their Chinese counterpart was 11%. This clearly shows the Chinese businesswomen´s entrepreneurial passion and favourable entrepreneurial climate in China.

Distinguished Ladies and guests, I believe, through my brief introduction, you have learned something about women´s social status in today´s China and Chinese women entrepreneurs. In tandem with rapid economic and social development, great progress has been achieved in the promotion of gender equality and women's development in China. At the same time, as a developing country with the world's largest population, and restricted by its limited level of economic and social development, China will continue to be confronted with new situations and problems in its efforts to promote women's development. There is still a long way to go to achieve gender equality in China, and arduous tasks remain to be tackled.

As the Chinese Ambassador to Iceland, I wish to take this opportunity to emphasize that both women and woman entrepreneurs in our countries have made positive contributions to the friendly cooperation between China and Iceland. We are glad to see that China-Iceland relations are in the best historical period. Our economic and trade cooperation is deepening, people-to-people exchanges have strengthened and business opportunities are more abundant. I hope Icelandic businesswomen would go to China more often to see the market there and explore business opportunities. You could also enhance your exchanges with Chinese counterparts to know each other, promote cooperation and achieve win-win results, so that you will jointly push China-Iceland relations to a higher stage, make contributions to both countries' economic and social development and bring benefits to the people's happiness and prosperity. The Chinese Embassy will do the best to provide assistance to your efforts.

Thank you again for inviting me. I Wish this meeting a big success.

Thank you.

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