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Chinese Rural Women Speak Up on Sex
Chinese women who had traditionally kept their personal lives a secret are now much braver in speaking up as their knowledge of reproductive health keep growing.

Liu Xiaohong, a 34-year-old woman farmer in Lujiang county of east China's Anhui province, feels at ease about confiding to a gynecologist and soliciting advices on women's diseases.

In the past, she regarded such discussions as taboo and would hesitate to do so.

"Would it be appropriate to go to gynecologists, and what if they make it gossip? If so, then I will be mad a laughing stock,"she explains as her former worry and believes the pillow talk between husbands and wives can now be discussed with others when necessary.

What changed her mind was unpleasant sexual intercourse with her husband Cheng Xiaodong earlier this year.

"My gut feeling tells me I was sick but I hesitated to see a doctor, so I picked up a telephone number and called the local family planning center for help," she said.

A doctor called on her and found she had come down with an inflammation known as vaginitis. Thanks to timely treatment, she recovered quickly.

The telephone number she dialed was a hot-line set up by local family planning units. In some such centers, special rooms are even reserved for those who wish to have a private conversation with doctors.

As most rural women are simply educated and lack adequate knowledge about personal hygiene, they are very vulnerable to reproductive diseases. In some outlying mountainous and poor regions, the incidence can be as high as 45 percent. Chen Zhaojun, a director of the Family Planning Association of China, said, "It was a common practice for most women to conceal diseases for fear of mocks or sneering."

In China's vast rural areas, he said, people tended to regard reproductive health care as something filthy and shunned the topic,which obviously even worsened the situation.

In 1994, an action program was approved by the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo which elaboratedthe vital importance of health services for women in view of the fact that an educated working woman contributes to the sustained development of society.

Since then, China, the world's most populous country, has redoubled its efforts and launched pilot service centers in more than 800 counties, approximately 33 percent of the country's total.

At these centers, a range of technical services are provided tohelp women choose contraceptive methods, take prompt measures to guard against disease, provide still better care to nursing babiesand spread all useful knowledge about the facts of human life.

According to Liao Weizhen, a local official in charge of encouraging birth control with the Anhui Provincial Family Planning Commission, a handsome sum of money was spent in these past years to improve service center facilities, print posters andpamphlets, distribute condoms and provide health checks to women farmers.

In Zhengchun county adjacent to Lujiang county, a dozen women of child-bearing age even established their own troupe for the spread of reproductive health knowledge and popularizing the policy of family planning through staging performances of drama, comic dialogues, folk songs and even traditional operas items. "Even if a woman of child-bearing age never visits the center, she would know where to go and seek help when in need," Liao said.

Dong Zilin, 69, an old man who manages a restaurant with a granddaughter in Lujiang county, said that there has been a world of difference, and the times had changed for the far better as youngsters could stay at home, watching TV or listening to the radio to acquire all the essential knowledge about reproductive health.

"In this way, nobody would feels ill at ease, surprised or evenawkward, and whole society has become increasingly tolerant and seem ready to deal with such topics," he said.

Meanwhile, for most women of Liu's age who have remained silentas they had been for years, the main impact on them speaking up comes from their husbands.

With an only daughter of six, Liu is permitted to conceive another baby if she wants, as she and her husband are both native-born farmers and are entitled to do so by local family planning regulations.

However, Mrs. Liu voluntarily gave up the right although her aged mother-in-law had longed and dreamed of having a lovely grandson-in-law, because her husband stood for her sternly.

These days, in her hometown, another pilot service has been initiated which encourages people of child-bearing age to choose birth control measures in line with their physical conditions.

In this case, Liu preferred the use of an intra-uterine device.

When asked why she did not let her husband use condoms instead,which would have spared her much discomfort, her face reddened, paused a little and then replied with a bit shyness: "That would not be so convenient."

(People's Daily December 14, 2002)

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