Youyun Zhang – China

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

Zhang Youyun was born in 1940. She worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was involved in the negotiations with Britain for Hong Kong’s future. In 1990 she joined Ministry of Labor. In 1994 she became a member of the International Labor Organization ILO and was also appointed Special Adviser on Women Workers’ Questions and Director of the Bureau for Gender Equality.

She says: “Being a woman does not necessarily mean that you are gender conscious. We should challenge existing rules of the game, including existing mechanisms that cause and perpetuate gender inequality”.


Youyun Zhang – China

In 1940, when Zhang Youyun was born, her father Zhang Aoyun was the magistrate of Yunxian county, Hubei province, under the Republic of China. Two years later he passed away, stressed out by overwork; he left a will which urged his children to take pains to complete what he had not finished, to love the people as well as the country, and to not be egoistic, grudging, lazy or greedy.

Dancing and gymnastics fascinated Zhang Youyun then. However, bearing her father’s will in mind, she gave up her favorite activities. After experiencing many difficulties, Zhang Youyun at last passed the examination and began to study English at the Beijing Foreign Studies University. In 1973, she went to Britain to further her studies at the University of Bath. She began her career as an interpreter in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1974, where she worked as long as sixteen years. During this period, she also took part in foreign affairs.

Zhang Youyun had the excellent opportunity of taking part in the negotiations between China and Britain on the question of Hong Kong, which started in 1982. While interpreting, Zhang Youyun did her best to create a pleasant atmosphere for the communication between the two parties. A British officer, who had been dealing with China for many years, is known to have made the comment, “The special characteristic of Miss Zhang’s interpretation is that she is not simply interpreting, she is also good at communicating.”

In July 1991, Zhang Youyun began a new career; she took the position of First Deputy Director of the Foreign Affairs Department in the Ministry of Labor (now known as the Department of International Cooperation of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security), and was promoted to Director the following year. In 1994, she joined the International Labor Organization. She was, at first, designated Special Adviser on Women Workers’ Questions, and Director of the Bureau for Gender Equality.

In the early 1990s, neither the gender problem in society nor the department where she was working was given much importance in the ILO. The department lacked adequate staff, finance and even experiences or precedents which could have been used as a point of reference; they could not receive much support from the top-level leaders. Under her leadership, the group was committed to changing the organizational concept of the ILO and was determined to bring the gender problem to a central position in the strategic goals of the ILO, both of which have proved to be strategically meaningful in the long term.

Soon Zhang Youyun became an expert on gender problems in the international world. She emphasized that “being a woman does not necessarily mean that you are gender conscious” and believes that the gender issue is highly relevant to the whole development plan.

Strategies of sustainable development cannot be possible or successful if they are not based on gender equality, she asserts.

She says that most of the jobs for women are unsteady and insecure; women are the largest unemployed group in society. In economic crises and military conflicts, the first victims are always women. Therefore, it is a big challenge to end gender discrimination in various fields and to accelerate the implementation of the Action Program worked out in Beijing, especially in times of rapid globalization of economy.

In order to improve the situation of inequality between the sexes, “we should be courageous and challenge the existing rules of the game, including some existing mechanisms which cause and perpetuate gender inequality,” said Zhang Youyun. She is determined to solve the problem by creating a new relationship between men and women – that of partnership.

In her opinion, the women’s problem does not just concern women exclusively; it is in fact an issue that involves human rights, social justice, economic benefits and sustainable development. “We must relieve ourselves from the traditional concept of roles played by men and women,” she said.

Separated from her husband and child, Zhang Youyun has been working hard overseas for many years. In order to achieve her goal of mainstreaming the problem of gender equality, Zhang Youyun has devoted herself to work wholeheartedly.

In solving the problems mentioned above, Zhang Youyun has done a positive and creative job in the International Labor Organization:

  • 1) She worked out and actively implemented the strategy and action plan of mainstreaming the gender problem within the ILO itself;
  • 2)She established a gender network within the organization, which functions as a catalyst in promoting equality between men and women in the labor force;
  • 3)She developed various channels of training which help improve the staff’s capability in mainstreaming gender problems and changing the sex ratio in the ILO, changing the ILO into an organization which respects gender equality, both in human resource development and in personnel policies.
  • 4)Within the UN, she was the first to implement the concept of gender equality in staffing budgets and gender auditing. She also worked out a systematic strategy for the propaganda and advocacy of gender equality.

Zhang Youyun’s efforts were not in vain. They have been proved to be quite successful. In 1999, the top-levels in the International Labor Organization were restructured, and furthermore, the UN, too, is now promoting gender equality in the world. Her pioneering work has thus been further reinforced by the creation of a better environment and equal opportunities for women. (1000PeaceWomen).

Gender Approaches for the Millenium.

ILO workshop on decent work and poverty reduction.

Statement: International Labour Organization ILO, POPLINE Document Number 154996.

Chinese Delegation Visits ILO to Learn about Private Employment Agencies.


ILO Enterprise Forum 96;

Migration of women is a survival strategy;

Womens Issues: Major Focus at Recent UN Commisison on Human Rights;


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