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World Forum in Beijing Spotlights New Movement for China's Women

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WANG JIAXIANG and Wu Qing don't mince words about women's inequality in Communist China.

''For 40 years, class struggle overshadowed women's struggle here,'' says Ms. Wang, an English professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University. ''Because of the predominance of political struggle, sexual issues were pushed to the side.''

''In theory, Chinese women enjoy all the rights of men, but in reality, the gap is still great,'' says Ms. Wu, Wang's colleague and a professor of American Studies.

The two women are part of a core of outspoken intellectuals trying to jump-start an independent women's movement in China. Their effort has gained some momentum with the presence of thousands of international advocates and delegates for the Fourth UN Conference on Women in Beijing this month.

The meeting has spotlighted human and women's rights in Communist China, where women's groups traditionally are under government control. And the UN conclave has given Chinese women a higher profile, albeit still not prominent.

''I think more and more women are becoming active in trying to make women more aware,'' says Wang. ''How much of this is awareness? Well, I think it's better than not having it at all.''

Activist women say the nascent women's movement is building on Communist accomplishments in raising women's status under the Maoist banner: ''Women hold up half the sky.''

Thousands of women, 90 percent of city women of working age, hold down jobs. One-third of government officials are women. Chinese women are educated in large numbers and enjoy better access to health care than in many other developing countries. China ranks high in many key indicators of women's position, according to a study by Nancy Riley, a sociologist at the East-West Center in Hawaii.

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