On January 25, China launched its first public recruitment campaign to employ professional firefighters. According to an announcement (in Chinese) released by the Ministry of Emergency Management, it plans to hire 18,655 people to join the country’s firefighting force — but only 20 positions were allotted for women.
The campaign came after China reformed its recruitment system for firefighters in March 2018. Previously, Chinese firefighters were part of the country’s military force and were hired under the Military Service Law. The new system allows average citizens or ex-servicemen to apply for positions as firefighters. Once employed, they need to complete month-long trainings before officially becoming a firefighter.
The recruitment plan states that 31 provinces and cities across the country will hire 18,655 fire fighters. Among them, 11,800 will join the rescue department and the rest will be forest firefighters. It’s also noted that the fire service only plans to employ 20 women, who account for about 0.1 percent of the total force and will all be located in Beijing.
In addition, prior to trainings, applicants are required to pass a series of exams including physical ability tests and political vetting. For female applicants, the fitness test consists of tasks like sit-ups and an 800 meter run.
The profession of firefighting is traditionally a male stronghold. While China has never released official numbers on female firefighters in the service, it’s presumably low given that like many other countries, firefighting in China is widely perceived as a profession that is too physically demanding for women. In addition, gender-based discrimination in employment is rampant across all sorts of industries in China. For example, a 2018 report by Human Rights Watch revealed that one in five civil service job adverts in the country are explicitly for “men only,” and that many of China’s largest tech companies published overtly sexist advertisements or had other major hiring discrimination issues.