China: Youyun Zhang

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

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.

Zhang Youyun was born into a patriotic military family in the former Republic of China. She studied first at Beijing Foreign Studies University, majoring in English, and then in Britain at the University of Bath. In 1974, she began her career as an interpreter in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From 1990 to 1994, Zhang Youyun held the position of Deputy Director of the Foreign Affairs Department of the Ministry of Labor, before being promoted to Director. In 1994 she joined the ILO, where she was designated Special Adviser on Women Workers' Questions, and became Director of the Bureau for Gender Equality. Together with her colleagues, she committed herself to changing the organizational concept of the ILO and to bringing the gender problem center-stage in the strategic goals of the organization. Zhang Youyun worked hard to form and implement the strategy and action plan for mainstreaming the gender problem within the ILO. She also established a gender network within the organization, which functioned as a catalyst for promoting equality between men and women in the labor force. Under her leadership the ILO developed various channels of training which helped improve the staff’s capability in highlighting the gender problem and the sex ratio within the ILO, thus changing the ILO into an organization that respects gender equality, both in human resource development and personnel policies. Zhang represented the ILO Director-General and headed the ILO delegation to the 23rd UN Special Session on Women 2000: Gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century. She also represents the ILO on the UN Interagency Committee on Women and Gender Equality and the UN Commission on the Status of Women.