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Saturday, 2 February, 2002, 16:33 GMT
China's women fight kitchen culture
Chinese woman cooking
Chinese women are locked in tradition

As the status of women in China's major cities is improving, their counterparts in the countryside still have to eat in the kitchen when guests arrive, even if the visitors are their own friends, China Daily reports.

"We women don't know how much news, information and other brainstorming ideas we must have missed while staying in the kitchen," the paper quotes Xu Jinfeng, a member of the Women's Federation in north China's Hebei Province, as saying. She was addressing a forum of journalists in Beijing.

Ms Xu told the forum that women, seeking respect and equal opportunities with men, should start by taking a seat at the family dinner table along with menfolk.

She made sure herself, she said, that she took full part in formal family dinners.

Old stereotypes

Several dozen women from farming villages near Beijing told the conference that they continued to be handicapped by unequal education and few job opportunities - but above all by the traditional stereotypical division of social roles between women and men, China Daily said.

People working on a farm
Women are expected to farm
Society has adopted double standards to appraise the qualities of men and women, they complained.

"For example, when it comes to social drinking, male officials who get drunk at the dinner table are praised for their honesty and integrity. But women officials who drink too much are criticised for their lack of self discipline," the conference heard, according to the paper.

New cliches

But it is not just the old prejudice that Chinese women have to cope with. New ones are emerging in society. One popular cliche is that women are inferior to men because the overall quality of their education and lifestyles is low.

Women often have to leave in the middle of technical training classes because they say they have to cook lunch for their children, husbands and in-laws

Member of Women's Federation
According to Ms Xu, it is hard for women to pursue their education in a situation where they are expected to stay at home.

"Women often have to leave in the middle of technical training classes because they say they have to cook lunch for their children, husbands and in-laws," China Daily quoted Ms Xu as saying.

According to head of the Women's Federation in North China, Lu Jingfang, women have found themselves locked in a vicious circle.

Ms Lu recounted an ironic saying circulating among many in the province: that the Women's Federation comprises a wealth of talent, but it is personnel departments which hold the key. When the time finally comes to unlock that wealth, the green sprouts of talent have already shrivelled.

"Unhappiest moments"

The forum participants related stories of the unhappiest moments in their lives. These included demands that they have children and parental requests to drop out of primary or middle school to help with household chores and farming so that their brothers could continue in school.

As the local saying goes, the menfolk are heaven in a household, but the women are the pillars that uphold the heaven

China Daily
Many said they had heard protests from superiors over the fact that they were women on the very first day they started a new job.

But Zhang Luhai, the head of the village of Wulaihe, told the meeting that given equal opportunities, women had proved themselves to be just as competent as men.

"I've discovered that a lot of women in my village are more open-minded and have a greater aptitude for learning than men," she said.

Ms Zhang said that in Cangxian County, it had been up to the 360,000 village women to maintain and expand the country's largest production base for jujubes - a type of date - as well as the local production of poultry and meat products, since most of their menfolk have gone to work away from home at construction sites and industrial firms.

Let bygones be bygones

"Despite their unhappy experiences, the rural women have decided to let bygones be bygones," China Daily concluded.

They knew that ultimately it was only their own confidence, ingenuity and industriousness that would help make them happy and prosperous and gain equal status with men.

"As the local saying goes, the menfolk are heaven in a household, but the women are the pillars that uphold the heaven."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

10 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: China
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