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Study: Gender Inequality Serious in Rural Areas

Gender inequality still exists in China, especially in poverty-stricken rural areas, a recent national study on gender assessment learned.

Professor Li Xiaoyun of the College of Humanities and Development at China Agricultural University said on Tuesday that although the status of Chinese women has improved greatly in the past two decades, gender inequality still commonly exists in almost all social aspects including political power, education, health, employment and assets possession. Li made the comments in Beijing at a workshop on gender and poverty in China.

A study group led by Li earlier this year surveyed 10 villages in the poorest rural areas including Sichuan, Gansu, Shaanxi and Jiangxi provinces, as well as the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

"In poverty-stricken areas, men and women are quite unequal in political rights," Li said. "Women are less involved in villager autonomy elections and account for a very low percentage of the village committee.

"Some male villagers think women cannot be leaders because of their weak thinking capacity and physical condition. More important is that women were not nominated in the election process."

As women have participated little in decision making, with only 12.5 per cent of rural cadres being women, few women have received training and benefits from village- level poverty reduction programmes, the study found.

Jointly funded by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, the study is part of a one-year study on gender assessment in China that was launched in October last year.

More measures are expected, in order to reduce the gender gap and enhance gender awareness among policy-makers, development project planners and practitioners, said Shireen Lateef, principal gender specialist for the bank.

"In light of the apparent gender inequality in East Asia, the Asian Development Bank has promised to introduce a gender equality strategy into every project and activity," Lateef said.

Women also have less decision-making power at home and less chance of receiving education, nutrition and health care, the survey's results indicated.

For example, Wang Xiulian, a 42-year-old resident of Xingmin Village in Ningxia with no formal education, has to work long hours in the vegetable greenhouse, which has made her suffer from severe asthma. Wang's husband, who has a senior middle school education, is mainly responsible for herding sheep.

The study also found that the prevalence of illness rates in rural women is 5 per cent higher than in rural men. In the villages surveyed, about 60 per cent of women suffered from a long-term illness, and twice as many doctor visits were made by women compared with men.

Long work hours and poor nutrition and care after childbirth are blamed as the two main reasons why women's illness rates are higher.

In Houhe Village, Sichuan Province, more than 70 per cent of women suffer from gynaecological illnesses. Many of the women who have died of hysteritis in Panzhuang Village in Shaanxi in recent years were in their 30s.

While men try to find jobs that pay more substantially, most farm work in recent years has fallen to women, meaning that they are doing housework in addition to their labours outside, the survey found.

Guo Ju, 55, a resident of Xiaowang Village in Gansu Province who cannot read or write, cooks, washes and cleans after finishing her day's work on the farm. Guo's husband herds cows, and their four children have left home to work in cities.

Guo had a quarrel with her husband during the wheat harvesting recently. She said. "I asked my husband to help me, but he said his job is just to herd the cows."

(China Daily September 8, 2005)

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