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Awakening Rural Women's Potential
You can only enjoy a piece of fruit for a short time, but with the seed you will benefit for life," Xie Lihua always says this to rural women she knows.

Xie is the editor-in-chief of the Beijing-based magazine Rural Women, the only publication primarily for rural women in China.

The education program sponsored by the magazine is just like the seed, says Xie. That program, which is in great demand, aims to assist rural women to develop themselves through enhancing their self-confidence and providing them with information and technology.

Currently, most poverty-stricken rural women are engaged in backward production due to a lack of educational and training opportunities.

Jia Junqiao from Longju Village, Mancheng County in Hebei Province says her attendance at the first symposium on rural women's development and policies in 1994, held by Rural Women magazine, was a turning point in her life.

She met many activists from women's organizations as well as making sincere friends at the symposium.

These meetings challenged Jia's outdated concepts, broadened her horizons and strengthened her confidence.

Since then, she has changed from a rural housewife to a village leader fighting against poverty for prosperity.

She recently took part in the second symposium on rural women's development and policies in Beijing as a representative of successful rural women. Jia is currently head of Longju Ecological Agriculture Ltd.

She won stormy applause for her speech describing her change of attitude and the hardships in leading 40 rural women in building the ecological park.

Rural women are now playing a significant role in the country's agriculture. Since more rural men are migrating to urban areas to find a better standard of living, rural women have not only become the mainstay of their families, but also of farming. Statistics show that rural women currently make up 65.6 percent of agricultural labor.

Under this situation, it is urgent to take various measures to tap the potential of rural women, who are plagued by outdated concepts, lacking both information and technology.

Making them recognize the principle of gender equality might be the first step in the education program. When rural women realize their value they will be able to tap their potential.

For a long time, rural women have been satisfied with being housewives. They believe that their only responsibility is to care for their family, while only men are capable of making money.

But, as Xie Lihua pointed out, China's rural women are like a precious underground resource. Once it is explored, the energy released will be massive, pushing the country's economy further forward.

A tearful Jia Junqiao told the symposium: "My success proves that women can also do what man can do although we may suffer more hardships than men."

Wang Shuxia, another rural woman from Shanxi Province, expressed her thanks to the training classes held by Rural Women magazine. "After the classes, I realized that I could not stay at home and complain about my situation, my husband and society. I gained enough confidence, improved my outlook and changed my life."

As a result of this she began to plant fruits with advanced technology.

After a few years of hard work, she has achieved goals she had previously not even dared to imagine - joining the Communist Party of China and earning 10,000 yuan (US$1,200) a year.

Numerous rural women just as talented and hard-working as Jia and Wang are waiting in the wings.

Rural Women's aid and education programs are now mainly organized by women's federations at all levels, who teach them self-respect, self-confidence and independence.

But this remains an empty slogan in many cases, due to a lack of detailed and practical work. Much work remains to be done in this respect.

After 20 years of reform and opening up, rural women's situation has greatly improved, but their potential is not being fully tapped and their role is not being acknowledged, said Feng Yuan, assistant to editor-in-chief of the Beijing-based newspaper China Women's News.

Although rural women's development faces many problems, they themselves are not the problem, Feng said.

(China Daily January 30, 2003)

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