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Women's Education Should Be Urged

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Women's Education Should Be Urged


Recently, a woman in a factory in Beijing was notified that she was being laid off as part of the optimization work force reductions in State enterprises. To escape humiliation at the hands of her husband and mother-in-law, she tried to kill herself by swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills.


After she was rescued, her mother took her to the factory director, demanding that her daughter be re-employed. Otherwise, she said, the director would be responsible for any accident tbat happened to her daughter. In the end, the director agreed to grant the woman a leave of absence at full pay plus bonus.

This is only one example of the problem for which traditional theorists of women's studies and supporters of women's liberation in China apparently have no ready solution. But some feminist researchers recently urged that a new approach be adopted to help women gain a fresh foothold in the struggle to improve their lives.

Traditionally, paid employment has been seen as the only passage towards women's liberation. And the rate of women's employment has been used as the major criterion in determining the level of women's liberation .

However, after more than three decades, few Chinese women feel liberated from the old burdens of family and children. They feel they have simply been given more work.

We now have to admit that women's employment doesn't necessarily lead to their liberation, or more exactly, to the full development of their personalities, said Ma Lizhen, an editor at Chinese Women magazine.

In China, she said, this road has reached a dead end.

For nearly 40 years, China has pursued policies that encourage women to join the labour force.

But they have resulted in serious problems, such as low efficiency in factories, strains on the State budget and a heavy load of housework and child care in a family, Ma said.

This employment-oriented system has hurt the women's fundamental interests as well, Ma said. Women were often put into jobs in heavy manual labour with men more as a demonstration of equality than because they were suited for the work. This left them more dependent on favourable government policies and less competitive.

A survey conducted by Ma's magazine indicates that about 70 per cent of the workers who will be squeezed out of the labour force in the current optimization will be wornen. The survey also reveals that more women than men prefer. Stzte employment, whieh is..more secure and less competitive.

To protect women's interesta, some women organizations l;ave urged the top leadership for more favourable policies for women. But some feminists now disagree.

We know that special government treatment alone will not produce cornpo.tent women, Dai Qing, a noted writer and journalist, said at a discussion. On the contrary, it has made them weaker and more dependent. What we should do now is to help women become more able and self-confident. And the only way is through education.

The long-standing neglect of women's education, especially in the countryside, has resulted in a large proportion of female illiteracy, whose negative effect on the nation's devel.opment is most strikingly seen in ihe country's barely controllable birth rate.

State statistics indicate that women make up about 70 per cent of China's 200 million illiterates. This situation cannot be expected to improve soon as hundreds of thousands of girls in the countryside are being forced by their parents to drop out of school at early grades to help work at home or in the fields. Girls make up an estimated 70 per cent of the dropouts in the countryside, according to Chinese Women magazine.

The women's movement should shift its focus from employment to education, Dai urged.

If women are taught self-supporting skills, they will support themselves as opportunities arise even without special care.

A good education will benefit a woman throughout her life whether she is a career woman or a housewife, said Da.i, who is working on a plan to set up what would be the only non-governmental girls' school in the capital.

Another way to help women stand up to the current challenge is for the media to give more positive coverage to housework and good housewives or househusbands, Ma suggested.

China at present cannot afford to provide publicly all the services traditionally performed within the family, such as cooking, washing and care for children and the elderly. But many people dislike doing housework because it is unpaid and unappreciated. ã?? Ma proposed that society compensate in some way the people who work at home.

Thus fewer women workers would feel ashamed about returuing home to do the housework, she added.

These feminist researchers have also begun reflecting on the sources of and philosophy behind the current setback in the China's women's liberation movement. They noted that the movement in China is still operating ithin the framework of male culture because from the very beginning it was formulated and directed by men.

They set the male sex as a model for women to follow. So women remain the second sex, Ma said.

She argued that the time has come for Chinese women to define their own roles in society. They should strive for a society in which they can choose to work outside, or stay at home, in which they can have more time to develop their own interests and improve community conditions.

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