A Chinese divorce court has ordered a husband to pay his wife more than $7,700 in compensation for the housework she performed during five years of marriage, in a landmark decision that activists hope will lead to greater protections for women in China.
The court in Beijing said this week that the husband was obligated to compensate his wife because housework carries “intangible property value” and should be considered an asset, according to Chinese news reports.
The decision comes amid global debate about whether societies should do more to recognize and compensate women for work they perform at home. Studies show that in many countries, women shoulder a disproportionate burden of household labor, hindering their ambitions and career opportunities.
While some commentators in China hailed the case as a breakthrough, many people said the compensation was inadequate, noting that full-time nannies in China earn far more.
“This is so unfair to women,” wrote one user on Weibo, a microblogging site. A hashtag about the case had been viewed more than 570 million times as of late Wednesday.
“Let’s see who dares be a housewife,” said another.
Women perform an average of two hours and six minutes of housework each day in China, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, compared with 45 minutes for men.
Chinese women, who have long endured discrimination at home and in the workplace, have pushed in recent years for better wages and fairer treatment. Activists have led campaigns against domestic violence, and a small #MeToo movement has spread in the country.
The legal system has become a focus of many complaints, because regulations make it difficult for women to obtain divorces and protect assets.
The Chinese government has offered some policies aimed at better protecting women’s rights, including a 2016 law against domestic violence. But enforcement of many such laws remains inconsistent.
The decision by the Beijing court followed new rules put in place this year that allow people in divorce cases to seek compensation for time spent performing chores and raising children.
The couple married in 2015. The divorce was initiated last year by the husband, who was identified only by a surname, Chen, according to news reports. The wife, whose last name is Wang, had been taking care of the couple’s son after she and her husband started living apart in 2018.
Ms. Wang requested that the couple’s assets be equally divided and argued that she should be compensated for housework and child care, since she said her husband did not perform those duties, according to news reports. The case is now undergoing appeal, though it is unclear which party initiated the appeal.
Advocates of gender equality in China said the decision affirmed the vital role women play in managing households. But they said it remained to be seen whether the decision will lead to broader changes in how women are treated in China.
“It acknowledges her housework to a certain degree and its economic value,” said Joy Lin, a Chinese activist who promotes gender equality. “But the compensation is not on par with what she should get and how she should be valued.”
Albee Zhang contributed research.