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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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In the early stages of the implementation of the HRS, the gender issue in land rights was not obvious, but after several years gender issues emerged.

Women began to lose their land because they got married, divorced, or became widowed. In these situations, their natal villages usually reclaimed their land, while obtaining land in their husbands’ village was not easy either. More women lost land as time went by. In 1996, the number of women who lost land in two

23Historical and social context

provinces in the underdeveloped western part of China amounted to no more than ten percent. In 2001, twenty percent of the women had no land (RCRE, 2004).

Sometimes, women’s natal villages do not reclaim the land, yet women cannot benefit from the land because their natal villages are too far away, or their parents have allocated the land to other household members. Because of the traditional gender ideology, women themselves also think that it is shameful for them to own land in their natal villages if they are already married. Only six percent of the rural households agrees that a married woman can obtain land rights after her marriage (Zhang, 2002b). A married daughter is no longer seen as a member of her parents’ family, but of her husband’s family (Zhang, 2004). According to the data from twelve underdeveloped western provinces, 53.3 percent of women think that they should give up their claims to land in their natal villages after they get married (RTDI, 2006).

Chinese law about land is gender-sensitive, but the problem is that it is not well implemented. It conflicts with traditional culture. Li (2003:21) observes that “Chinese law, if not perfect, is gender-sensitive and often explicitly addresses gender issues. The major problem is one of a lack of mechanisms for enforcing those laws, and this, coupled with the existence of a culture of male dominance, has put Chinese women at a disadvantage as regards arable land use rights.” According to the ACWF (2000), leadership at the local level often ignores women’s complaints, and courts may refuse to accept their cases, thinking these are intrafamilial matters, inappropriate for litigation.

2.8.2 Gender and household labour in China Because of Confucian ideology, in China, agricultural production traditionally was men’s domain, and women were not encouraged to work in the fields; they were just the men’s assistants. The typical picture of rural life was that “men plough and cultivate, women weave” and that “men work outside and women work at home”.

Women mainly worked in home garden production and did household work.

Things changed, however, after the foundation of the People’s Republic of China in

1949. Chen (2004) argues that the major changes in the communist period were that women were promoted to do the same work as men in farming. Yet, the division of labour still is that men are chiefly responsible for income-generating activities and women are still dominating in domestic work. According to Bossen (2002), the gendered division of agricultural tasks has remained constant, but according to Judd (1990), the division of labour has become more complex since the HRS.

Migration influences labour and the division of labour, because migrants mostly are men and young people. Female migrants mostly are young and single women (Fan, 2003). Older women are the major agricultural producers in the villages.

Decision-making on the division of labour focuses more on the interests of the family as a whole than on the interests of individual members. In addition, older generations have traditionally had decision-making authority over the allocation of labour. However, things now are changing. “Although a decision on the division of labour may benefit the whole family, it may not benefit particular individuals, since some jobs are more desirable than others. Thus, the final decision may be the balance between an adaptive strategy and a bargaining process about power, reflecting both differences in individual resources and household 24

Chapter 2

dynamics” (Chen, 2004: 568-569). Older women are complaining about their loss of power and lower status compared to the past. At the same time, for younger women, engaging in paid work does not necessarily mean a reduction of household chores. The daughters-in-law are still responsible for domestic tasks;

their roles have grown bigger (Chen, 2004). The complex of the division of labour

is influenced by many factors:

Age. The age gap influences power relations. Older people usually have more power in the family. Yet, the older and younger need to cooperate with each other more than in the past. The work activities of daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law are not independent, rather complementary (Chen, 2004). The division of labour between the generations of women is a type of family strategy, as well as a result of power dynamics within the household. The intergenerational division of labour responds to family needs, such as childcare demands, with the mother-in-law more likely to adjust her work activities than the daughter-in-law. Hence, there is an intricate relationship between the change in the power relationship between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law on the one hand, and changes in the division of labour between the generations on the other.





Economic and environmental factors. Economic and other environmental factors can influence the division of labour. Li (2005c) has found that the socio-economic status of the household is positively associated with the sharing of housework among men and women. The local economic conditions may have strong implications for people’s work activities and, hence, for the division of labour within the household (Chen, 2004). Electricity, for example, can save labour in cooking (ACWF, 1991).

The household structure. Li (2005c) has found that more members share women’s housework in extended family households than in nuclear family households and that women do less in extended family households.

Attitude and knowledge of agricultural production. The ACWF (1991) has found that women working in off-farm work are considered to be better than women in farm work, because they generate more income and have more opportunities for social contact. The report mentions, on the other hand, that women are satisfied with farm work because it gives them more freedom to combine it with housework, while the farm income is also increasing. “However, there were variations in the attitudes of the women in the different age-cohorts. Many in the oldest cohort felt rather alienated because they were old and semi-literate and no longer able to change their occupations. In the middle group, women whose husbands earned a higher income in non-agricultural work preferred to do the farm work so they could take care of the house and the children at the same time.

Young women also thought that doing farm work made it easy for them to look after their babies, and so they were satisfied with it” (ACWF, 1991).

Education. Chen (2004) points to the importance of education as a determining factor in the division of labour. The difference in educational levels between the

–  –  –

generations is striking in China. Mothers-in-law with a low education are less likely to work outside. A more educated daughter-in-law may have a wage job, while the mother-in-law may engage in agricultural activities such as gardening or animal husbandry, which are considered less important than staple food production. Or it could be that the daughter-in-law does agricultural work, while the mother-in-law stays at home and is mainly responsible for domestic production and housework (Chen, 2004). Li, (2005c: 248) says that “on the one hand, female literacy has an important influence on rural women’s decisionmaking power, the division of labour within the household, and their exposure to the broader society; on the other hand, female literacy is not significantly associated with autonomy, suggesting that female literacy is not a panacea measure for women’s status.” Social resources. Individual social resources influence the division of labour in the household and in society at large. Chen (2004) indicates that when the daughter-inlaw’s natal family lives close by, her power in the household seems to increase and working arrangements tend to favour the daughter-in-law. Fan (2003: 38-39) has found that “the social network reinforces the sorting mechanism that matches employers with workers, and further deepens segmentation and gender segregation of work when new migrants replicate the work of earlier migrants.”

2.9 Summary and conclusion Rural Chinese households have gone through many changes since the implementation of the HRS. Rural households are increasingly based on nuclear families, the number of single person households is increasing and that of extended family households is decreasing, but for stem households the trend is less clear. The number of migrants is increasing, and seasonal circulation is very popular. Because of this, household members do not always live and eat together on a daily basis. At the same time, migrants still try to link to their rural household in many ways.

They send remittances, and help other family members migrate. These processes cause changes in the relationships between the generations, particularly visible in the relationship between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law, leading to the older generation losing their power and the younger generation gaining autonomy.

In the collective era, farming households made their living by cultivating collective land, with the farming arrangement being controlled by the collective leadership. The government was completely responsible for technology extension and adopted top-down extension services. Since the HRS, the household has acquired land use rights, even though the household landholding is small. Now, landholding is also changing because households split up and household members migrate. Some households rent the land out and others rent in. Some lands lie fallow because of labour shortages. Livelihood diversification, including offfarming and non-farming activities, reduces agricultural production to a sideline activity that yields a low income. In general, rural households increasingly consider agricultural production a form of household security that is not necessarily profitable. When young people migrate, the older people may have to

26 Chapter 2

abandon the land because of a labour shortage. The rural household needs more support from kin and family members when household members migrate to make a living. They need their help to take care of children and the elderly, and to provide employment information in order to reduce the risks attached to migration. Rural households now gain knowledge about new technologies in different ways and through different channels, while the role of the government in technology extension is decreasing.

Chinese society is patrilineal and patrilocal. After the implementation of the HRS, the man has remained the head of the household head and the property is still inherited by the sons, even though, by law, land is also allocated to daughters.

More de facto female household heads are emerging and they have more decisionmaking opportunities. More women continue to act as the head even when the husband comes back. Since the HRS, gender roles are changing and the strict division of labour has changed as well. However, some researchers have found that the division of labour is still quite strict. Women’s economic and social status is increasing, although this does not apply in some poor regions. Women are left at home and their health is damaged because of their large workload. They take on the men’s tasks in addition to their own, traditional tasks. With the HRS, the problem of women’s access to land did not disappear, because the number of women who cannot get land is increasing, even though the law gives women the right to land for cultivation. Household headship changes provide women with an opportunity to make decisions on agricultural production and to attend community activities, but some men still have doubts about women’s capabilities regarding the management of agricultural production. Women continue in their traditional roles while taking on men’s tasks at the same time. Their workload is increasing. When men migrate, their status in the family improves because their work is regarded as better for providing cash income for the household. At the same time, migration also provides women with opportunities to earn money, which increases their decision-making power.

Since the implementation of the HRS, socio-economic stratification is becoming more pronounced. At the beginning of the HRS, socio-economic differences were small, but now the gaps are widening. There is an increasing differentiation in both economic and political power. Village leaders are not as powerful as before. Inequality in terms of income is clearly increasing, while occupational differentiation is not very visible because people keep their rural identity. During the past 30 years, the government has put a lot of effort into agricultural production and rural development, which contributes to the levelling off of income differences.

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This chapter discusses the key concepts in the study, namely household, gender, livelihood, and social differentiation. The last section presents the conceptual framework, the research objectives, and research questions. In the framework, the household is used as the unit of analysis.

3.1 Household, family, kinship and headship



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