Chinese Women Step Forward in the Backwaters

  • by Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore (beijing)
  • Tuesday, May 29, 2012
  • Inter Press Service

The 50-year-old is just one of countless women in China’s Shaanxi province who have lifted themselves away from financial dependence on male family members. The scheme aims to provide economic and social empowerment to women in China’s rural hinterlands, where men still rule the roost and gender discrimination is commonplace.

The scheme - which runs until September this year - was set up in 2009 following the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which killed an estimated 68,000 people and destroyed millions of rural people’s livelihoods.

UN Women has invested 150,000 dollars and teamed up with the Shaanxi Women’s Federation at local and provincial levels, as well as the All-China Women's Federation , to initiate the microcredit scheme, which has benefited 51 women in Fengxian county.

Loans range from 5,000 to 10,000 RMB, with a six-month payback time limit. So far there has been a 100 percent loan return rate, with women using the money to kickstart small businesses ranging from home- inns to pig farms and medicinal plant gardens.

In addition, 53 training sessions - which focus on efficient and green agricultural techniques - have been delivered to over 2,000 women as part of the UN Women and Women’s Federation project. In China, 60 to 70 percent of the agricultural labour force is female - a number only due to rise as more men migrate to the cities for work.

Despite this, women from rural areas still suffer from second class status. Only 20.22 percent of households in rural China are headed by women compared with 79.78 percent of men, according to the All China Women’s Federation’s Third Wave Survey on the Social Status of Women.

Suicide - much more prevalent in rural areas - is also the leading cause of death among women aged 15- 24, according to the book A Broken Compact: Women’s Health in the Reform Era’ by Veronica Pearson.

Women in Fengxian county, however, are taking matters into their own hands. Guo Suqin started raising musk deer in 2004 when she purchased four fawn. But when the deer began to breed, she could no longer build new housing for them. After receiving the loan she was able to expand her farm to 14 musk deer and 20 musk deer stables.

'My husband’s net income for the whole year is 10,000 RMB,' Guo tells IPS. 'I stay at home to do the farming and raise musk deer. Before we were financially burdened, I used to be a full-time housewife. Generally within a rural family, the husband is the only one that makes money. My husband knows that I make more money and more contributions, so he respects me a lot.'

Xue Jinting, president of the Women’s Federation of Fengxian County, Baoji City in Shaanxi province, believes that the project has raised women’s social status both at home and in their village communities.

Xue explains: 'Women have benefited a lot. In the past, men left home to work in cities. Their wage was the only income for the family. Expenses - including buying crops, the children’s education, and living costs - were all covered by the men. Truth to be told, women couldn’t do anything without men’s financial support.

'Now, without clashing with their existing domestic responsibilities, women can do business on the side and bring in income of their own. Raising animals and growing plants fits their situation perfectly. They don't have to change their lifestyle and they can still take care of domestic affairs as before. It is a feasible plan.'

Julie Broussard, country programme manager at the UN Women China office, agrees. 'In the countryside when men see women making money they are more likely to support women’s increased involvement in the family - the right to have a say, the right to participate in family decision making and in community decision making, because economically they have a higher status in other people’s minds.

'Its a win win win - win for the family, win for the community and win for the woman,' adds Broussard.

Thirty-two year old Tang Yigui previously had to support the family on her husband’s income doing odd jobs outside their rural village. Tang had previously borrowed money to start up her own pig farm but found that the high interest meant there was little profit. Now, following the UN’s microcredit scheme, Tang has set up a 100 square metre pig pen and invested in female pigs.

'It increases our family income and improves our living conditions. If I don’t do anything, my husband gets out of the village and does part time jobs - if the whole family relies on his paltry income, we are faced with a heavy financial burden,' Tang tells IPS. 'Now that I’ve got the loan, I can do small business and relieve our living expenses.'

'I haven’t seen any disadvantage for this project yet, I am hoping in the future there will be more projects like us. The loan plays a leading role in improving women’s status in rural areas.'

© Inter Press Service (2012) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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