Government assistance goes some way towards meeting the basic demands of life, but for the most vulnerable groups it is far from enough
When you spend hundreds of yuan on abalone or shark's fin at a well-decorated restaurant, you never consider what the monthly living expenses of a poverty-stricken family in Shanghai might be.
Zhou Guiying, 50, lost her husband several years ago. She brings up her two adopted children on the 650 yuan (US$ 79) that her retirement pension provides. Fate has not treated her very well, for her adopted daughter died early this year and she herself has been diagnosed with leukaemia.
"Zhou's story is not the only example," said Shen Yan, an official with Shanghai Research Center on Ageing. "With the fast development of the city, most people's lives have improved, which can be proved by increasing average incomes. But poverty still exists, especially among women."
An investigation by Shanghai Women's Federation concluded that of all the people living under the bottom line of living expenses, which is 280 yuan (US$ 34) per month per capita in the city, about 60 percent are women.
A total of 233,000 people who are under the bottom line now receive government assistance, according to the latest statistics of the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
"But this sum of money only meets the basic demands of life," said Xu Chongren, an official with Shanghai Charity Foundation. "To those families with special problems, the money is far from enough."
Last year the foundation helped about 30,000 impoverished people financially.
"Every day, we receive piles of letters seeking help," Xu said. "Women account for a big part."
Local poverty-stricken women can be divided into three categories, said the investigation from the Shanghai Women's Federation.
The first is local middle-aged women in poverty. Most are laid off or divorced women living with children.
"But the most serious problem is that these women or their family members contract diseases or disabilities that throw them into more serious situations," Xu said.
Among those families where a member suffers from cancer, expenses mount quickly, according to Xu.
The investigation said about one-third of poverty-stricken women come from such families.
The second type of impoverished women are elders. Elderly women over 60 years old account for over 54 per cent of the population of the same age.
"On average, women retire earlier than men, and their pensions are comparatively lower," Shen said. "Some of them who have laid-off children easily become impoverished."
Some elderly women are lifelong housewives without any pension. If their husbands die, they can only depend on the monthly 145 yuan (US$ 18) of pension from their husbands' employers.
Experts from Fudan University said that of the 2.36 million elders including men and women in Shanghai, about half live under the average standard.
Then there are provincial women who are married to Shanghai men.
According to the city's sixth sample investigation of the immigrant population, about 70,000 provincial women are married to local men registered as permanent residents.
"Most of these women are from villages and small towns of other provinces. Shanghai, a city with fast economic development, definitely attracts them," said Zhou Haiwang, an expert with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. "To become a real Shanghainese, marrying a local man is the easy way."
But the marriage sometimes does not bring them the good life they expect. Most Shanghai men with provincial spouses are those in poor financial circumstances such as disabled people, elderly ex-bachelors, and people with low incomes and poor living conditions.
The sample shows that 56 percent of provincial wives lack full-time jobs. A survey from Changning District carried out in the late 1990s said over half of such families were in poverty. The family income of about 63 percent of such families is lower than 500 yuan (US$ 60) per month.
"I think more provincial women will marry local men in the future," Zhou said.
Among singles in the city, about 85 percent are men and most are laborers with meager incomes. "So to find a wife from another province is a good way for them," Zhou said.
The expert also said the government should introduce policies to tackle issues of permanent residence, employment and social insurance for these women.
(China Daily 07/19/2001)