The Women and Children
On May 10, 1983 we were welcomed into the Women’s Federation in Beijing. This is a nationwide federation founded in 1949. It is open to all walks of life, all religions and all nationalities in China. The purpose and goals of this organization are to protect the rights of women and to train and educate children.
The structure of the organization has its national headquarters in Beijing. There is a contingent in 20 of the 29 Providences and in other countries. It’s a grassroots level organization for commoners; for women run by committee. They encourage women to take an active part in spiritual and material things protecting the rights of women. There are 300 staff at the national headquarters in Beijing. The Organization was totally funded by the government. Before the new China, 90% of women were illiterate and very few worked; they only served their husbands. Now in 1983 36% of workers are women in more and more fields. Those fields not suitable for women are avoided. The women workers make up 48% in light industrial; 56% in textile, 36.7% in the steel/iron industry, 18% in oil, 30.8% in forestry/meteorological, 35% in conservation, 50% in general medicine and 53% of the available doctors. Women are paid the same wages as the men.
All children have an equal right to go to school and obtain an Education. In 1983 93% attend elementary school. By 1990 the government says primary education will be popularized. They are committed to populate in the middle school and make education available in all cities.
Primary schools had 130 million students of which 43% were girls; middle school is 39% girls and the University is 24.4% girls. The technical schools at the middle school level are 40% girls.
Remember this is 1983. With the one child policy, the numbers have drastically shifted with a severe male dominated country. Female children were so unwanted that murder was a common thread.
It’s harder to popularize higher education among the peasants. A major problem is the economy of China. Before they were supporting the scientific Academy of about 200 members with a single woman gynecologist; now there are 400 members with 15 women in the senior positions. Government is very concerned for health of women in all areas. There is a health net with 2,600 clinics in China. Before the liberation, pregnant women died at the rate of 20 per 1000. The mortality rate of the child was 200 per 1,000; also the birth rate had a high mortality rate but growth was low. Now with prenatal help only five in 10,000 parishes. The child mortality rate is 13 in 1,000 in the city and 20 in 1,000 in the rural areas. These changes came about as the government changed. During the reign of Mao, starvation was eliminated. The government guaranteed one bowl of rice for each person in China.
During our visit in 1983, there was protection for four time periods: first: menstruation; second: pregnancy; third: delivery and fourth: nursing. At seven months the woman is changed to lighter work. There used to be a 56-day maternity leave; maternity leave now with only one child is six months. In Beijing, the father gets two weeks with full pay. Upon returning to work, the mother may feed twice during eight hours for a period of one half hour each feeding with full pay. Single mothers are very rare but would enjoy the same privileges. All rural mothers breast-feed; city mothers for unknown reasons do not have enough milk and only nurse for two months. All babies are born in the hospital in cities; rural births are handled by midwives in the private home. The baby boom in the 50s increased the number of births handled at home with midwives and brought the practice to the cities. The marriage laws in China say that women marry at age 20; they have a child one year later. Boys must be 22; but in the city the age is 24 or 25. University students must graduate first. They may choose not to marry as it is a very small social structure to be married. Some women are old maids because they have much higher standards being in University etc. and wait too long.
Contraceptives are required. The economic punishment for an extra child results in a severe salary decrease and elimination of bonuses. In the rural areas boys are the preferred sex; so may have more anyway. Abortions are not only legal but encouraged; women get two weeks paid leave for having an abortion. China in 1983 had a population of one billion people. There are 200 million each year at a childbearing age; birth control is expensive. The fundamentalists in China, especially in the rural areas, have the idea that they want boys so they still kill the baby if it’s a girl. It is illegal with severe punishment; but it still happens. For some, maiming is the punishment of choice for being born a female.
Sharing of chores is normal in China; but women still have more to do at home and serving their husbands. Add children to the mix and there is less time for women to study which may limit promotions. Feudalism causes women to be thought of as less intelligent, clever, etc. It’s common for women to hold very low paying positions. Rural girls have a hard time finding time for education; they rarely are able to promote to higher positions because the family wants them home to do household and field chores. Only 44% of rural girls attend even an elementary school.
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