Wednesday, January 02, 2008

China: Xie Lihua and China's Poor Rural Women

Meet Xie Lihua, working to improve the often-harsh lives of China's rural women.

I've often noted how difficult are the lives of China's rural population of peasant farmers. The lives of many poor rural women are especially dreadful. And by "poor," I mean a statement not of emotional sympathy, but a statement of economic hardship: "poverty-stricken."

We need more people like Xie Lihua. See what she has been doing:
Xie is the founder of the groundbreaking Rural Women magazine, a crucial emotional outlet for generations of peasant women. Each issue includes a lengthy series of readers' letters, a sort of chat room for far-flung villagers too poor to own computers.

Although urban women have made strides toward equality, thanks to better education and opportunities within a growing white-collar workforce, rural women are often stuck in a harsh lifestyle unchanged from an earlier era.

"I tell them their life is the equal of any man. They were not born unequal -- society made them this way," Xie said. "They just need opportunities to obtain their rights."

Three of four Chinese women -- more than 450 million -- still live in the countryside, where rigid social customs breed loneliness and abuse.

Domestic violence rates are high. Each year 150,000 women commit suicide in rural China -- the only place on Earth where more women kill themselves than men, according to the World Health Organization.

Xie's readers are country women taught to refer to male spouses not as husbands but masters. They inhabit a world where the emphasis on bearing sons is so strong that women bear names such as Zhaodi ("looking for a little brother") and Aidi ("loving a little brother").

Along with her 14-year-old magazine, Xie founded the Cultural Development Center for Rural Women, China's first nongovernmental organization focused on women living outside the city.

She has sponsored programs in literacy training and suicide prevention, as well as some aimed at increasing women's political participation. She dispenses micro-loans for enterprising rural women.

These days, she focuses on the plight of China's largest underclass -- the millions of women who leave the countryside as migrant workers -- and especially on abduction and trafficking schemes that enslave women as prostitutes.

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