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Women to Get More Help

The Shanghai Women's Federation plans to establish more neighborhood legal aid centers and health foundations this year to help women living under the poverty line.

The federation will establish 180 new legal aid centers by the end of this year, meaning the city will have 300 such centers covering two-thirds of Shanghai's neighborhoods.

The legal aid centers can offer direct legal consultation and advice to needy women, according to Cai Lanzhen with the health federation.

Cai said the centers are mainly staffed by volunteers from the city's legal profession, including lawyers, judges and prosecutors. The federation has also set up two legal hot lines - 16845838 and 16005838 - to answer women's legal queries.

Health issues are also a concern for many poor women in Shanghai, said Cai.

She said the federation is currently trying to raise 1 million yuan (US$120,500) to provide free gynecological exams every two years for impoverished women.

"While women have seen their social status improved greatly, they are still at a disadvantage, compared with men," Cai said.

She pointed out that many local women, especially those above the age of 40, have more trouble than men in finding a job. Female employment rates in the city are down from 10 years ago, despite the city's rapid economic development. In 2000, just under 75 percent of women between the ages of 25 and 49 were employed.

One reason for this, said Cai, is that the legal retirement age for women is lower than that for men. The retirement age varies depending on whether one is involved in physical labor or white-collar work.

The federation is pushing local lawmakers to make retirement age the same for men and women.

"Apart from providing legal consultation and other help, the federation should also be active in submitting proposals to the Shanghai People's Congress, urging legislators to protect women," Cai said.

Lu Ronggen, who does research for the federation, said that women still face many hurdles from entering certain segments of the work force, particularly jobs in science or engineering.

While young women have equal access to universities and colleges, very few study math, science or engineering, and those that do find many companies are reluctant to hire women in these fields, he said.

( eastday.com February 15, 2002)

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