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Program Offers Future for Rural Girls

About 6,000 girls who don't attend school in poor western regions will have the chance to develop specific skills next year, thanks to an explorative Sino-UK program to promote gender equality in rural areas.

The program started five years ago in six counties in the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan and Gansu, and will conclude at the end of next year, having received a combined fund of 2 million pounds (US$3.49 million).

A total of 12,000 girls from these regions aged between 15 and 18 will have obtained basic skills in the areas of planting, poultry raising and embroidery, by the end of next year.

Chen Minghui, a 15-year-old girl from a remote village in Yunnan, said she is able to earn an average monthly salary of 1,600 yuan (US$198) through her embroidery work, a skill she acquired through the program.

She also attended some other lectures offered on the program covering topics on reproductive health and job hunting.

Girls below the age of 18 in the country, especially in western rural regions, often face discrimination in the areas of education and employment.

Growing up in a family of five depending on growing corn, Chen lost the chance to continue her education four years ago due to poverty, despite an outstanding performance in her studies.

Chen said that in her village, almost every family has two children, with at least one boy and most of the girls only having elementary school education.

"When I was in primary school the proportion of girls to boys was about 1:3," Chen said.

She followed by saying that she has gained not only life skills from the program, but also a passion to explore the world beyond home.

"I want to find a job outside my county, maybe even outside the province," she said.

Jiang Yuee, a senior official with the All-China Women's Federation, would rather call this program a tentative approach to addressing widespread discrimination against women in rural areas.

"I think the program adopts a down-to-earth approach," said Jiang at a three-day national forum on opportunity development for girls in China.

Gender inequality seems to be fomenting because of social problems due to the migration of the rural population and increasing divorce rates.

"Most of the more than 20 million rural children who are left at home by their parents seeking jobs in big cities are girls," said Yang Jin, vice-director of the Ministry of Education's elementary education division.

The National Bureau of Statistics said it may start to collect employment and education statistics separately for men and women, to support the government in making gender-sensitive policies.

(China Daily November 15, 2005)


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