Bound by lower education levels, traditions and household responsibilities, most women from ethnic groups in China’s impoverished regions have never dared to think of ways other than farming to help their families build a better life.
However, with the government campaign to eradicate poverty gathering steam, small manufacturing workshops are bringing jobs to their doorsteps and empowering women to take on new roles in their professional lives.
Ma Xiuping, who lives in a village in Linxia Hui autonomous prefecture, Northwest China’s Gansu province, cannot hide her excitement when she recalls receiving her first pay packet after starting her new job.
“I could barely read, and I never imagined I would receive a salary like urban workers,” says Ma, who is in her 50s.
The rural cooperative that hired Ma to make traditional cloth shoes now employs more than 50 previously low-income female workers.
In Gansu province, these poverty-alleviation workshops have created jobs for more than 8,000 women who were once stuck working on farms or taking care of the family. For these women, the opportunity to take up regular work represents a fresh start.
“Now I don’t have to ask my husband for money, which makes me feel more confident,” says 28-year-old Ma Fatumai who works alongside Ma Xiuping. For her first month of work, she earned 1,350 yuan ($190).
For Huang Ayingshe, who works in another poverty-reduction workshop in the prefecture, the job also offers more links to the outside world, which she says is “much more fun” than staying at home.
As the deadline to eradicate absolute poverty by 2020 approaches, China is focusing its efforts on the nation’s poorest people, and Gansu province represents one of the key battlegrounds.
Answering the central leadership’s call for “precision poverty alleviation”, which demands developing tailored policies to suit different local situations, the province seeks to tap into the power of local women in the race to meet next year’s goal.
In July, the All-China Women’s Federation held a meeting in Linxia. The increasingly important role that women can play in fighting poverty was highlighted.
Official data showed that China lifted 13.86 million people in rural areas out of poverty in 2018, with the number of impoverished rural residents dropping from 98.99 million in late 2012 to 16.6 million by the end of last year.
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