Female-only lane at Beijing airport security checks

BEIJING • They may "hold up half the sky", as Mao Zedong once said, but Chinese women are often kept in line. They get lower pay, are forced to retire earlier and have fewer leadership positions than men.

Now, the authorities who run China's airports are giving women - or relegating them to, some might say - their own security line.

Beijing Capital International Airport has officially added women-specific lines after a three- month trial.

The metropolises of Shenzhen, Kunming and Wuhan have done the same.

They are marked by bright pink signs that say "Female Only" in Chinese and English.

The government's rationale is that women want to avoid being frisked by men. In the women's lanes, the security guards are all women.

Women also carry bags of personal cosmetics that need to be opened and inspected, requiring greater scrutiny, a security guard told state media.

The implication is that they are slowing down other travellers - mainly, the males - with less fussy baggage.

The policy follows an impulse in official circles these days to shield women from degrading or hostile experiences - an impulse that some see as a revival of paternalistic customs.

Some indicators of women's standing in Chinese society, including pay ratios in cities, seem to show their progress slowing as China grows more prosperous.

Women's representation in the Communist Party's ruling Politburo remains low - only two of 25.

Plenty of women have no objection to the separate treatment at the airport, though. They say the segregated lines move faster than the unisex ones.

In fact, when a state-run bus company in the eastern city of Zhengzhou recently introduced a women-only bus at rush hour to cut down on groping, the complaints came mainly from men who had to wait for the next bus.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2016, with the headline 'Female-only lane at Beijing airport security checks'. Print Edition | Subscribe