Young women play key role in strikes in China’s export industry
Young women in China make up the majority of the manufacturing and assembly-for-export workforce, around 80% in many factories. Not surprisingly they played a key role in the 40-plus strikes that swept China’s export industry last year, demanding higher pay and ’grassroots’ unions as a counterweight to the company unions that are the only legal labour organisations in China.
Young women, even more than men, leave rural China and join the migrant workforce because the poverty and drudgery of rural life falls especially hard on them. They are often pulled out of school to work on their parents’ farm or encouraged to seek work as migrants from as young as 14 years of age. The school drop-out rate is 40 percent in some rural areas, compared to a national rate of 5 percent, and girls commonly make up two-thirds of drop-outs.
This is reflected in China’s illiteracy rate with 70 percent of the 85 million illiterate people being women. Despite school fees being prohibited at elementary level in 2005, school fees are still a fact of life in many rural areas because local governments are bankrupt or have channeled all their resources into infrastructure projects that boost GDP figures and provide officials with fat bribes. Many rural households cannot afford the cost of schooling and regard a daughter’s education as less valuable than a son’s due to economic pressures, absence of pension provision and elderly care services.
Women are expected to marry and in later life take care of their husband’s parents rather than their own. This also explains why so many gender selective abortions are made, despite this being illegal, with the resultant skewed gender balance: for every 100 girls born in China, 119 boys are born. This growing imbalance means that forced prostitution and human trafficking has become "rampant" in some parts of the country, according to a recent report.
China also has the highest female suicide rate in the world – 25% higher than for men. Again, rural women are the main victims: "Half of the suicides are of women in rural areas, who commonly drink pesticide to end their lives," reports China Daily. Poverty, financial pressure, and unhappy, forced or violent marriages are the main reasons.