For China’s Single Moms, a Highway to Recognition Paved With False Begins

For just a few wonderful weeks, Zou Xiaoqi, a single mom in Shanghai, felt accepted by her authorities.

After giving beginning in 2017, Ms. Zou, a monetary employee, went to court docket to problem Shanghai’s coverage of giving maternity advantages to married ladies solely. She had little success, shedding a lawsuit and two appeals. Then, earlier this 12 months, the town instantly dropped its marriage requirement. In March, a jubilant Ms. Zou obtained a advantages test in her checking account.

She had barely begun celebrating when the federal government reinstated the coverage simply weeks later. Single ladies have been as soon as once more ineligible to obtain authorities funds for medical care and paid go away.

“I at all times knew there was this chance,” Ms. Zou, 45, mentioned. “In the event that they make me give the cash again, I suppose I’ll give it again.”

The flip-flop by the Shanghai authorities displays a broader reckoning in China about longstanding attitudes towards household and gender.

“There has never been a policy change,” a worker at Shanghai’s maternity insurance hotline said when reached by phone. “Single mothers have never met the requirements.”

Still, many women described a persistent gap between attitudes online and in reality.

Many Chinese still worry about the financial burden and social stigma single mothers face, said Dong Xiaoying, a lawyer in Guangzhou who works to promote the rights of single mothers and gay couples. Lesbians are also often denied maternity rights, as China does not recognize same-sex unions.

Ms. Dong, who herself wants to have a child outside of wedlock, said her parents find that decision incomprehensible.

“It’s a little like coming out of the closet,” said Ms. Dong, 32. “There’s still a lot of pressure.”

Shanghai’s about-face was the clearest example of the authorities’ mixed messaging on the reproductive rights of unmarried women.

When the city appeared to expand maternity benefits earlier this year, officials never explicitly mentioned unmarried women. Their announcement said only that a “family planning review,” which required a marriage certificate, would no longer be carried out.

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