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Conclusions and suggestions for decision makers

From the survey findings, we can see that socio-economic development since the founding of New China in 1949 has had a strong impact on a wide scale on women's education, employment, and marriage and family life, as well as on their views and concepts. The enhancement of women's status and role in the rural areas is particularly noteworthy. In Hengtang and Jiahong, the two field locations at different development levels, in-depth analysis of the conditions of the local female population reveals the differences in their status, roles, and concepts and proves once again the impact of economic development on women.

The survey has also shown that China is still in the primary state of socialism. The low level of productivity and the commodity economy in rural areas and the lingering influence of traditional ideologies have combined to produce an inhibitive effect on the growth of the rural economy and the advancement of women themselves. Thus the ongoing rural reform must be carried forward to further develop the rural economy and improve the people's material and cultural life. This is a gigantic challenge, and we believe there are two problems to be solved in order to meet it, which we hope will receive the attention of policy makers.

First, vigorous efforts should be made to upgrade the competence of rural women. This refers not only to their general and technical knowledge and productive skills but also to their sense of self betterment and independence from male support. Second, in the process of developing the rural economy, full consideration must be given to tapping the surplus rural female work force, an important human resource we cannot afford to neglect. In this respect, we can benefit from the experience gained in Hengtang. There, special attention has been paid to developing township enterprises that are suitable for women, such as silk reeling, net making, dressmaking, and small-scale processing industries while ensuring good and safe working conditions for women workers.

We offer the following views and suggestions:

1. General education is a prerequisite to the upgrading of scientific and technical knowledge and professional skills. The departments concerned should study and seek solutions to the problems of drop-outs and the lowering of educational standards among rural female students. In implementing the compulsory educational programme, publicity must be accompanied by mandatory measures to ensure the schooling of all school-age children, especially girls.

Meanwhile, it is necessary to consolidate what has already been achieved by the cultural and educational programmes for rural women. After leaving school, they usually return to a culturally underdeveloped environment, in which they gradually lose interest in learning. Some of them even cease to read any books or newspapers. As time goes on, they begin to forget what they have learned in school and gradually become semi-literate. This problem, if left unattended, will not only lower women's competence in general but make a waste of the earlier educational efforts.

When recruiting workers, the township enterprises will be well advised to give the candidates a general test. This will help to push rural young men and women to study with a purpose.

2. Training courses at all levels and in different subjects should be organized for rural women to upgrade their scientific knowledge and productive skills. The contents of these courses should include agriculture, industry, handicraft, commerce, education, health, and other subjects, depending on local needs and feasibility's. The current "spark programme" designed to develop the rural economy is a significant step in this direction. The local programme directors should guarantee women's participation.

3. Ideological education among rural women should be strengthened to kindle their spirit of self-betterment and encourage them to actively participate in rural economic development. This is especially necessary for relatively backward areas where some women still hold on to a small-peasant-economy mentality that makes them content with small gains. They continue to consider themselves appendages of their husbands and have little enterprising spirit. We should help them to shed outmoded ideas.

There is a general tendency to look down on farm work. A two pronged strategy is recommended. On the one hand, rural policies, investment funds, and modernization measures should be so oriented as to protect the legitimate interests of those who engage in crop planting and stock raising in the rural areas. On the other hand, publicity and educational efforts should be made to lead rural women to understand the important role of agricultural production in the national economy. Once they have a clear understanding of the significance of agriculture, they will naturally devote themselves to its modernization and possibly encourage their children to study hard to prepare themselves for this worthy cause.

4. The trend indicates that there will be more women switching to township enterprises and other non-agricultural occupations. These enterprises are still in their initial stage and mostly weak in management and production installations. The department concerned should pay close attention to the status of women workers in these enterprises, taking into consideration such factors as their working conditions, hours, wage scale, and welfare and labour protection, and should take measures to ensure their legitimate rights and interests.

These views and suggestions are based on our study of the role of rural women in the ongoing economic reforms. Since our survey was confined to the two field locations in Jiangsu and Sichuan provinces, although these areas were purposely selected for their different economic developmental levels to ensure their representative character, our findings unavoidably suffer from the limitations of local characteristics. Nonetheless, it remains our hope that the results of our survey will be useful to policy makers.

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