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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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8.5.2 Gender changes in the division of labour and decision-making There is a saying in Kaizuo that shows the traditional division of labour: “When the man is not capable, the woman goes to market; when the woman is not capable, the man does the cooking”. This shows that men are supposed to carry out tasks that take place outside the household, such as marketing, while women should do household chores, such as cooking. As discussed above, from a gender perspective, there is a difference in livelihood portfolios, while gender roles are

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changing in livelihood portfolios as well. Gender roles are also changing with regard to the division of labour and decision-making, especially since the increase of migration.

Household chores Household tasks are traditionally women’s domain. Now that migration is increasing, the division of labour within households is changing, too. Table 8.5 shows that women are doing most of the cleaning, cooking, feeding animals, caring, and washing. Fetching water is done by both men and women. Yet, with regard to feeding cattle and collecting fuel wood, things were quite different in the 1970s cohort: back then, the men fed the animals and collected fuel wood. Every day, they took the cattle to open grassland.

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I noticed that one husband in the 1970s cohort in Dongkou village took care of the cattle the whole day. He did not do anything else, because the cattle were a little sick that day. He got the necessary medicinal herb from the forest and asked the only traditional vet in the village to help with the treatment. He treated the cattle

161Farming households and the Household Responsibility System

with medicine every three hours. I asked why he only focused on taking care of the cattle, and he replied: “There is not so much that needs to be done in the non-busy season. My wife can manage alone, so I can spend more time to take care of the cattle”. I saw that his wife was busy the whole day with cooking, taking care of their grandson, and making tofu for their neighbour’s reception. Usually, those who look after the cattle in the field collect fuel wood at the same time. For the younger cohorts, most men are not around in the non-busy season and women have to take care of the cattle, or they give it to their parents to look after. The younger cohorts also buy more agricultural machines and raise fewer cattle than their parents. The differences between the cohorts are not significant. In the FGDs with women, women said that they take care of the household’s money more often than their husbands because they are good at it, but they only spend money on household consumption and not on their own consumption, as men do.

In the past, women were tired because they had more tasks to do and the division of labour was more clear-cut. Men rarely helped women with some activities, such as taking of children. Women had to fetch water, ground grain manually, and cut grass to cover the floor of the cattle pen. Nowadays, they have enough rice straw to use, and there no longer is a need to cut grass. In the past, the women had to spend half a day or even a whole day to get water from remote villages. Now, there is tap water in most villages and there is ample water in the rainy season. In the dry season, some villagers still need to fetch water.

Nevertheless, nowadays, both men and women are doing that. In the past, the women also had to pound the rice and maize because there was no grainprocessing machine until the mid-1980s. In the 1990s, the electric rice cooker came into use, so cooking rice has become easier. Only the few people who mixed rice and maize as staple food had to work harder because the cooking time was longer.

The households in the 1990s and 2000s cohorts spend less time on cooking.

Nowadays, most households have savings and women find it less difficult to manage the household, even though there are more activities than in the past.

When men need money, they ask women to give it to them. When the couple puts money in the bank, however, it is in the husband’s name. If it were to be in his wife’s name, he would be laughed at by others, because only a few households are in the woman’s name. Another reason why women cannot sign is that they are illiterate.

Nowadays, both men and women are doing household work. For younger cohorts, the division of labour is more obscure if both are at home. In general, the women do more work in the household because the men migrate.

Decision making In terms of decisions about household chores, generally, the important decision maker is the one who carries out that task the most. Usually women do more, and make more decisions about, household chores. However, important decisions such as selling animals and building houses are made by men or are made jointly. When the couple decides to build a house, the husband takes the responsibility and makes decisions for the construction, while the wife helps a little.

In the collective era and at the beginning of the HRS, the women of the 1970s and 1980s cohorts were more tired, both mentally and physically, because 162

Chapter 8

there was not enough food to eat and no money to spend. Women had to manage the household very well to feed all its members, when there was not enough to eat.





In both FGDs and interviews, villagers in the 1970s and 1980s cohorts mentioned that, in the past, the decisions that had to be made within households were fewer but harder.

The division of labour in agricultural production The above discussion shows that the division of labour in the household is different for men and women. This also applies for agricultural production. Table

8.6 indicates that land preparation, irrigation, and information collection is mainly men’s work for all cohorts. Weeding the rice field is a man’s job nowadays, because since recently, herbicides are used instead of manual weeding. Most women are unable to read the instructions on the pesticide bag. In the past, weeding was usually a woman’s job, because it takes a lot of time and men had no patience to do it. Weeding maize is a woman’s task or joint work, because it really takes a lot of time, especially in upland villages. Maize also requires weeding two or three times, each time taking half a month. The home garden is completely the work of the women for all cohorts. Harvesting is a joint task because it is very important for the household and it has to be done quickly to avoid decay in the field. The postharvest drying of rice and maize is also either a joint task or the woman’s task. It takes a lot of time. Most often, the men help to carry the rice sacks and maize sacks to the drying floor, where the women take care of the drying tasks.

Transplanting is women’s work, but more men have joined them in the 2000s cohort. Fertilizer application is mainly men’s work in the 1970s cohort, but for other cohorts, this task is most often shared between men and women. A possible reason is that the women from the 1970s cohort are not that strong physically and could not take the leading role. The participants in the FGDs for this cohort told us that the women from this cohort had to cook for the household and sometimes hired help after coming home from the field during the busy season.

People from the younger cohorts could go to their parents’ house to eat if they were tired in the busy period. Marketing was a man’s job or joint work for the 1970s cohort and still is for the 2000s cohort. For households from the 1980s and 1990s cohorts, this is different. Marketing was a woman’s job or a joint task.

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Generally, the division of labour in the 2000s cohort is not as clear as that in other cohorts. The possible reason is that the task divisions were not so strict because of a new ideological change, brought about by the migration experience. Another reason might be that the couples just got married and still depend on their parents’ help when the husband is absent.

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According to the FGDs of cohort 1 and cohort 2 and key informant interviews with aged persons, in the collective era, task divisions were more rigid: men ploughed and women transplanted, and they harvested together. In winter and summer, both men and women cut grass for feeding cattle or cleaning the field. After the HRS, the household became the production unit and the division of labour was not so clear-cut. Men and women worked together more often, even if they took on separate tasks. For instance, when spreading manure together, the man mostly carried the manure and the woman spread the manure on the field. Yet, ploughing still is men’s work; only a few women can do that. When men started to migrate, however, women began to learn how to plough, too. In the cohorts of the 1990s and 2000s, more and more women can plough if the husband is not at home. In the older cohorts, more men stay at home and continue to do the ploughing.

Transplanting is a woman’s task, which men rarely carry out. Even nowadays, men still seldom do the transplanting, especially those from the older cohorts. Some younger men, on the other hand, did begin to do the transplanting and some even do it very well. Usually, when the wife has migrated out, her husband hires women to do the transplanting. However, it is not a very common for the wife to migrate, leaving her husband behind (Table 8.7). Harvesting is a task wife and husband share. The husband brings the heavy harvesting tools and carries the grain sacks, while the wife cuts the rice straws and helps her husband with some of the physically demanding workload. Couples usually get help from relatives if one of them has migrated out.

For younger cohorts, the division of labour in agricultural production is not as clear-cut as for the older cohorts, as indicated above. But the home garden definitely is woman’s domain. Husbands rarely help their wives there, except with watering and applying fertilizer. “The home garden is definitely a woman’s job” most men said in FGDs and interviews.

In the past, unmarried children used to help their parents with agriculture, but nowadays, the children rarely help with fieldwork and animal raising. Most children are in school until middle school, because the government pushes through the obligatory education campaign22; children are not allowed to withdraw from school before middle school. Those who cannot continue to study after graduation from middle school migrate to earn cash. There are almost no people around the age of twenty in the village. “All the unmarried children want to migrate. My youngest son is 20 years old and planned to start a transportation business at home because our household bought a truck. But he had a hard time in the evenings, since he had no friends With the obligatory education campaign, the government promotes that all children 22 must finish nine years of education, including primary school and middle school. It provides financial support for this. Financial support does not go to high school students.

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left. So he left the village and went to Zhejiang province last month”, one female participant in the FGD 2A in Dongkou village told us.

Decision making in agriculture As with household chores, the decision making in agriculture is mostly done by the person who performs the task most often. Women make many suggestions, but men do not always listen to their opinions. Women make decisions about their own activities, even if these are trivial. In the peak season, men and women decide together on the division of agricultural tasks. During slacks, the women make more decisions on their own because most men are absent. Men are not as concerned with agricultural decisions as they were in the past, because they now make decisions about long-term migration and circular work, to provide the household with more income. Agricultural decisions are increasingly left to women, especially in the 1990s and 2000s cohorts. Most men and women from the 1970s and 1980s cohort, on the other hand, are still working in agriculture and both make decisions about how the work is divided.

8.6 Migration In this section, both long-term migration and circular work will be discussed. Not just migration in itself has been changing, but also its impact and the motivations for it have changed over the past 30 years.

8.6.1 Motivations for migration In the collective era, some men from the 1970s cohort migrated or performed circular work. This was arranged and required by the collective. They only followed the collective’s arrangement and got work points to exchange for agricultural products. They did not receive any money themselves, the collective did. Long-term migration and circular work earned higher work points and were usually done by skilled men. After the HRS, people began to build new houses and some skillful men did circular work in house construction. A few men worked in mines in nearby villages.

For the 1980s and 1990s cohorts, the main income during the 1980s and 1990s came from agriculture. Circular work and long-term migration were supplementary activities for these cohorts. Respondents from these cohorts remember clearly that when people just started to migrate in the early 1990s, most people thought this was a waste of time and money because it was not clear whether one could earn enough money to pay the travel costs. After they had heard many success stories, people started to try for themselves, but these experiences were not very successful. Salaries were low, and it was hard in itself to get a full salary. Bosses were inclined to cheat the migrants they employed. It took until the 2000s for the government to adopt measures to guarantee that rural workers get their full salary. Nowadays, people try to migrate, even if they have to borrow money to cover the travelling expenses. They believe that they can earn enough money to pay back these loans. In the early 1990s, the 1980s and 1990s

166 Chapter 8

cohorts mostly did circular work in nearby cities or counties. They did not even know where the bus stop was when they first started travelling, so these experiences were quite unnerving in the beginning. Only a few people from the younger cohorts went to high school in the nearby city of Duyun, so they did not share these worries.



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