Stay-at-home women mobilized to power China's rural vitalization

Donning a red vest and carrying a huge pesticide tank, Zheng Jingjing walked side by side with four "sisters" in a wheat field to spray pesticides for their neighbor.

Donning a red vest and rubber boots and carrying a huge pesticide tank, Zheng Jingjing walked side by side with four "sisters" in a wheat field to spray pesticides for their neighbor who is in poor health and has a husband who works away from home.

"A bucket of pesticide weighs more than 50 kgs. I have a neck problem and therefore can't do heavy work," said Zhang Xialan, owner of the field. "They did the work that would take me almost a whole day in less than half an hour."

As a volunteer in Yingshang County of east China's Anhui Province, Zheng, a mother of two, is a member of the county's women's council established in June 2020.

Yingshang has a population of 1.79 million, among which 540,000 are migrant workers, leaving a great number of women at home taking care of the elderly, children and the land.

"Many of them spend their spare time on mahjong or chitchatting. It was not only a waste of time but also often caused disputes," said Huang Qi, Party secretary of the county.

"Stay-at-home women used to be a marginalized and vulnerable group, but as society develops, more women in the countryside aspire to do more and want to gain recognition," said Huang.

In June 2020, a volunteer group named Cunsao (sisters in the countryside) Council, was set up to mobilize rural women in Yingshang. The council now has 4,322 members, with the majority being between 30 and 50 years old, and 94 percent possess a middle school degree or higher, according to Zhang Yan, head of the women's federation of the county.

Council members have played an active role in rural life, including promoting government policies, persuading people breaking with old customs, keeping villages clean, cutting hair for the elderly and mediating in disputes.

"My family was not supportive in the beginning and wanted me to focus more on household duties, but I actually had plenty of time and wanted to do more," said Zheng, 24. "They are more supportive now. My husband often offers to help me if I have an issue in the council."

Being a council member is not easy as it requires the volunteers to do tedious and time-consuming jobs. They sometimes are misunderstood, especially during this year's Spring Festival holiday, when they were asked to visit each house to ensure those returning from outside observe COVID-19 control measures, but they encouraged each other and never gave up.

Since the establishment of the council, its members have persuaded over 2,000 families to simplify wedding or funeral ceremonies to minimize the risk of virus infection, resolved nearly 1,300 disputes and led numerous help to left-behind children and seniors living alone.

"The council provided a platform for women to tap their potential and realize their values. They have become a vital force in social governance and rural vitalization," said Huang.

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