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«Juanwen Yuan Thesis committee Thesis supervisor Prof. dr. A. Niehof Professor of Sociology of Consumers and Households Wageningen University Thesis ...»

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6.3 Female-headed households In this study, it could be observed that the village of Dabuyang has significantly more female-headed households than other villages. When I was there three years ago, women were very powerful in Dabuyang compared to the women in other villages. Dabuyang women always joined the community activities and were famous for their power and capability. Men were said to quarrel, while women were thought to have more collective spirit and the ability to reach an agreement

80 Chapter 6

more easily. Men also admitted that most Dabuyang women head the household.

Sometimes, women attended the meetings and asked men to withdraw because they got drunk and did not pay enough attention to the discussions. Dabuyang village is a Buyi village with 64 households; only one household is not Buyi. Weng (1995) did research in this village and has indicated that Buyi women have a stronger position than women in the nearby villages, even though their position is still lower than that of men.

6.3.1 Female-headed households in the literature Household headship can be conceptually distinguished as dual-headed, maleheaded, and female-headed. Female-headed households usually imply the absence of adult men, while in male-headed households, usually one or more adult women are present (Bruce and Lloyd, 1995). Female-headed households include a de jure type of female-headed households and de facto female-headed households. The first type of households generally has no husband present. De jure female household heads are widows, or deserted, divorced, separated or single women. The de facto female-headed household means that the husband is incapable of supporting the household (Firebaugh, 1994). Chant (1997) indicates that female heads in this type of household control the income for household use (whether from earnings, remittances, or transfer payments). Firebaugh (1994) says that female-headed households emerge because of women’s increased income and the household survival strategies to support male migrants. Firebaugh (1994) also mentions that female-headed households are very heterogeneous and that policies should respond to these differences. Female-headed households emerge because of gender-selective migration and many other factors (Chant, 1997). The number of female-headed households is increasing and will continue to do so, leading to women’s poverty (Chant, 1997; Haviland, 2002).

6.3.2 Female-headed households in the study area In the survey, I distinguished between male-headed households and femaleheaded households. Most female-headed households are de facto female-headed, meaning that women make the decisions in the household, even though men are still registered as the household head in the hukoubu registration (see Chapter 2).

Only a few households are registered as female-headed (that is, as de jure femaleheaded) households. If women are the de jure household head, they are also the de facto household head. In the sample, we found that there are three situations in

which women are registered as household head (de jure female-headed household):

the husband is a government official; the woman is widowed; or a case of shangmenlvxu. Government officials have an urban registration certificate; they are not registered as rural hukou. These husbands have their own urban hukoubu, but their children are required to follow their mother’s registration as rural citizens.

Widows and the wives of shangmenlvxu normally register as household head according to the local tradition, as indicated above. The number of female-headed households is significantly higher (10% level) in the village of Dabuyang than in the other villages (see Table 6.2).

–  –  –

In the municipality of Kaizuo, female heads of households are called female dangjia. The word dangjia means making decisions and working as the manager of the household. Female-headed households are the households in which women are the main decision makers regarding household chores, agricultural production (including the buying of seeds), animal raising, gift giving, borrowing money, taking care of elderly people and children, and marketing. Yet, for most femaleheaded households, the most important events for the household are still under the control of men, such as building a house, or arranging wedding ceremonies and funerals.

During the focus group discussions (FGDs) and case study interviews, people said that men do not object to women’s management of the household and think it is the women’s domain, but they expect women to inform them and listen to their suggestions. Men know that women usually make good decisions. Men give their earnings to their wife to manage. This does not imply that men do not make decisions at all; they just make fewer decisions. Women in female-headed households told us that they are often very tired.

Older women in Dabuyang said that more women would like to be a dangjia. I was told about a Buyi legend, according to which women are clever and have to wear an apron18 to prevent them from being too clever. If women do not wear an apron, men worry about the women becoming too clever. For this reason, Buyi women have been required to wear an apron to this day. Older Buyi women make the apron themselves and wear it every day.

Dabuyang women have an important voice in some community activities.





In the collective era, there even once was a female village leader in Dabuyang.

Nevertheless, women are still not likely to become village head. In informal group discussions, women mentioned that there is a Buyi saying: the male chicken is used as sacred food for the gods and not the hen. This means that men attend formal and important events and women do not. Likewise, the number of women attending community activities is still limited, even in Dabuyang village.

According to the FGDs and interviews, traditional culture allows women more freedom of thought and action in Dabuyang village compared to other villages. This adds to their strength and capabilities, as has been confirmed by Gu’s 18 Apron strings such as worn by Buyi women are displayed on the cover of the thesis.

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study (2001). Ge (2003) mentions that in Buyi history, men were working in the military and women were working in the field, managing the agricultural activities and the household. According to a number of authors, the zuojia tradition (see above) incorporates matrilineal characteristics; women’s higher position can be traced back through the zuojia phenomenon (Chen, 2003; Chen, 2006; Wu, 2006;

Zhang, 2002b). These researchers also found that women still stay in their parent’s house and do not want to live in their husband’s house, because they want to maintain this matrilineal tradition. Wu (2006) also mentions that things are changing but traces still remain. In the Buyi research villages, the change is apparent in the fact that the zuojia period has become shorter. In Dabuyang village, men like to drink and gamble. Most men consume local wine twice a day and usually get drunk. Some younger women also begin to gamble, but they still make decisions and manage the household activities. It is their responsibility and they do not trust men to do well.

During my field research, the villagers mentioned that more women are becoming household heads because of male out-migration. The survey results show the high number of female-headed households in the village of Dabuyang as well as in other villages (see Table 6.2). A traditional Chinese proverb describes the household division of labour as ‘men make decisions about the field and women make decisions about the household’s chores. Now, women make decisions and manage both field and household. FGDs also show that women make more decisions since the implementation of the HRS than in the collective era. During the collective era, women used to follow the village leader’s decisions and rarely joined in the decision making. The HRS and migration provided opportunities for women to become household head. De facto female-headed households steeply increased in the past ten years. The mixed group discussions (FGD M1 and FGD M2) in the villages of Dabuyang and Dongkou showed that women are thought to be stronger than men. Both men and women said: “society is changing; women are more powerful nowadays and want to control men and make the decisions about managing money”.

Migration provides women with the opportunity to make decisions. Their urban work experiences can empower female migrants and enable them to become potential agents of social change in rural areas (Fan, 2004), even if they still follow tradition and take care of children (Murphy, 2004). Chen (1996) found that women make more decisions because they have to, since the husband is absent. Women access and control more resources, which gives them more power to make decisions. Murphy (2004) has found that left-behind wives assume responsibility for work tasks outside agriculture, leading women to acquire new skills or take up new activities. This, in turn, enhances their visibility. Capacity building is important to make women stronger, something in which intervention projects play an important role. The CBNRM project emphasized the involvement of women in natural resources management and always asked women to attend project activities. In the group discussions, women said they felt strong. They stated that it is a good thing that men go off to work elsewhere, because it allows women to make their own decisions, without the need to have discussions and quarrels with their husbands. However, the women also mentioned that when the husband has migrated, it is difficult to discuss important decisions, such as building a house.

83Women’s life stories and social change

6.4 Women’s life stories The above discussion demonstrates the changes seen in the rural household in terms of gender and livelihoods. In order to understand the changes in terms of gender, livelihood, and the household after the introduction of the HRS, especially since the increase of migration, eight life stories are presented in the following section. I interviewed four women from the 1970s cohort and three from the 1980s cohort from October 2007 to July 2008. In one case (in section 6.4.5), the household was established in the 1990s, although the couple married in the 1980s. Zhi, Xiu, Fen and Zhen are from the lowland paddy field village of Dabuyang, while Yan, Xiao, Ming, and Ying are from the upland village of Dongkou.

6.4.1 Life story 1 Name: Zhi = EGO Age: 52 Cohort: 1980s Other household members: a husband, two daughters, one son Household headship: de jure and de facto female-headed household Village: Dabuyang Figure 6.2: The genealogy of Zhi Zhi’s introduction My house is at the gate of the village. People have to pass my house if they want to go into the village’s main residential area. My husband is a teacher and works in a primary school eight kilometres away. He travels back and forth every day by driving a motorcycle. In the registration certificate, - hukoubu -, my name is registered as the household head because my husband has a separate urban identity (hukou) registration and he has no land in the village. My children and I have a rural hukou registration according to registration regulations. Now, the oldest daughter has an urban hukou because she has a formal job. In reality, I am also the household head, because I make decisions about everything. My life is easier, even though we only belong to the middle-level households in the village.

84 Chapter 6

More young people migrate to earn higher salaries than my husband’s salary. But in the past, his salary was higher than an income from agriculture would have been, and our household was once one of the richest ones in the village.

Formation Stage Getting married and delivering babies I got married in 1985 when I was 29 years old and gave birth to our first daughter in 1986. My hometown is the neighbouring village of Guntang, one kilometre away. I am the oldest child in my family and my mother wanted to marry me off in a nearby village, so I could take care of my younger siblings, who were still at school. My parents also expected me to look after them in their old age. My father was an employee at Changshun Agricultural Bank. My parents wanted to marry me to a rich husband, because they were having a hard time with eight children to raise. My husband is a primary school teacher and has a stable salary. He and I were introduced to each other and then we were engaged.

I got married and stayed in my parents’ house (niangjia) for one year (zuojia). I began to live with my husband and parents-in-law in 1986, after I became pregnant. I had to cultivate the land with my parents-in-law, because I had no land of my own and my parents-in-law arranged everything. I just followed their instructions. My husband came back every day from his work eight kilometres away, but he did not know much about agricultural production. It was I and my parents-in-law who did this together. My husband gave his salary to his parents to control. Additionally, I made rice wine to sell for more income because I had learned this from my mother. We tried hybrid rice in 1987 and got high yields.

Later, my husband also began to learn how to plough. When he was doing agricultural work, he always tried to make the work less arduous by applying innovative methods.

My parents-in-law were not happy with me when I delivered two girls, the eldest in 1986 and the second in 1987. After I delivered the first daughter, they expected that I would deliver a son. After the birth of my second daughter, they were very unhappy. My husband took care of me during the first two days after delivering my second daughter in 1987. Later, my parents-in-law persuaded my husband not to take care of me, so he did not come back for one month after that.

They did not give me enough nutritious food to eat during that period and did not help me in delivering the babies. Already half a month after delivering my second daughter, I had to do agricultural work, even though I was still weak. I cried almost every day in the first month after delivering the second girl. My third child, a son, was born in February 1989. I was lucky that my own mother came to help me when I had difficulties taking care of the babies.



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