Go Girls!!!!

13 May


In Guangdong province, where nearly 30% of China’s exports are made, women usually far outnumber men on labour-intensive production lines such as those at the toy factory in the city of Shenzhen, next to Hong Kong. Rural women are hired for their supposed docility, nimble fingers and attention to mind-numbing detail.

But in recent years Guangdong’s workforce has changed. The supply of cheap unskilled labour, once seemingly limitless, has started to dry up. Factory bosses are now trying to let go of as any many workers as possible. However, the women who have migrated to the factory towns have become better-educated and more aware of their rights. In labour-intensive factories, stereotypes of female passivity are beginning to break down. Meaning the women aren’t going down without a fight.

The Economist spoke to five women in the Guangdong area, who have been occupying the toy factory since mid-April, regarding their recent unemployment. They have been sleeping on floors, braving rats and mosquitoes, to stop the owner shutting down the factory without giving them fair compensation. Majority of the women are migrants from the countryside, where they new greatly dependent of this source of work, thus all are angry and determined not to give way.

Guangdong is a little more tolerant of protests, such as this one displayed here, than many other parts of the country. In July the authorities relaxed controls on the registration of NGOs. But those involved in labour issues rarely get official approval, apparently because of fears that they might help organise strikes. Only a handful of such groups in the province is openly engaged in work to help the female labour force. The leader and a few dozen volunteers give advice on collective bargaining. They recently helped some 60 female workers at a jewellery factory secure better severance pay whereby negotiations took just a week. She says it would have been “very difficult” to achieve that through government channels.

Harsh conditions are often seen in the factories; whereby they work illegally long working hours, lived in cramped accommodation, have few breaks and little leave. But this hasn’t appeared to faze the women on China. As for many having a job such as this has also been liberating and empowering, both personally and financially. The women she encountered were “more motivated to improve themselves and more likely to value migration for its life-changing possibilities.”

The toy workers, many of them in their 30s or 40s, who have been working at the factory since it opened some 20 years ago, are typical of their generation of migrants. They have become urban and their children know nothing else. “We can’t plant fields now”, says one. No, agrees another, “We can’t go back”.

Many woman in these provinces are experiencing something similar, therefore, what happens now? A growing number of women have adapted greatly to the industrial urban bustle as opposed to the slow paced rural lifestyle.




3 Responses to “Go Girls!!!!”

  1. samhemming May 13, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

    On a surface level it seems perplexing that NGOs focussing on labour affairs have trouble getting official approval and that workers use collectivist negotiation outside of the official government union channels. The Communist Party is after all supposed to be based on the ideologies of Marx and Lenin, is it not supposed to stand for this very ‘proletariat’ group that seem to be wary of it? To the critics of the Communist ideology these issues in Guangdong are just greater proof of the Parties hypocrisy. A less inflammatory point of view would be that events show the government is becoming isolated from its people.
    But for the defender of Communism there is the counter-argument that capitalism is to blame. Guangdong province it at the fore-front of China’s own version Perestroika where aspects of the outside worlds including capitalism are being introduced into the Chines system. It can be interpreted that the striking these women are engaged in is against profit-maximising capitalist methods. This integrates into the greater concept that Guangdong’s greater international orientation is changing aspects of the Chinese character there. This can be seen in the breaking down of older gender roles, for example not only are the strikers in this report mostly women but Guangdong also boast the most female billionaires (http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?cid=1302&MainCatID=13&id=20101110000174). Outside of the ideological debate maybe we can simply say that China is showing signs of increased integration into the current prevailing international culture, such as less defined gender roles.

  2. zk1e11 May 13, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    Women and the Government
    The Chinese authority has made a gender equality law in 1949; nevertheless the discrimination against women still remains. In 2005, the Chinese authority published a white paper to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Fourth UN World Conference on Women. This law improves equality between woman and man in 9 aspects with politics and family life. The white paper indicates that the authority is working on what they can to reduce discrimination in education. The white paper also recognizes the reality that the gender equality issue has not been solved, and only fewer females play a significant role in the government. The Central Committee is the highest position of the Communist party in China. Only 22 members were women in the Central Committee of total 192 people. Women’s political influences have improved over the last half century but it still remains low.

  3. sb2g10 May 14, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    As mentioned above, Guangdong is a region that has experienced more than its fair share of protests, which may explain it’s slightly more lenient approach to these protests (although I would like to emphasize the word ‘slightly’). The main reason for the frequency of protests in the region is is due to it’s rapidly growing manufacturing industries, which has lead to a huge influx of migrant workers. These new migrant workers often become embroiled in arguments and fights with the locals, which are normally dealt with by some somewhat dubious policing. It is often the police’s handling of these disputes that often result in protests, as the migrants opinions tend to be largely overlooked.

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