Chinese rural women escaping poverty by training as domestic service workers

By Li Qiao in Zhangjiakou Source:Global Times Published: 2019/6/26 19:03:28

Women in Shixiali village, Yangyuan county in North China's Hebei Province attend a domestic service training course. Photo: Li Qiao/GT

China's second-child policy and aging population have increased demand for domestic service workers in the country

Rural women in Yangyuan county in Zhangjiakou, North China's Hebei Province obtain professional skills through subsidized domestic service training programs

Flexible nature of domestic services suit rural women who often have to take care of elderly family members

It never occurred to Zhao Xiufang, a 50-year-old resident of Shixiali village, Yangyuan county in North China's Hebei Province, that 40 years after her school days, she would be back in a primary school classroom, learning not Chinese characters or math, but how to change diapers and bathe newborns.

Zhao is undergoing domestic service training as part of a poverty alleviation program organized by the human resources and social security bureau of Yangyuan county (HSBY), which aims to provide domestic services to a growing number of families with a second child or elderly members.

The domestic service industry is known as a "sunrise industry" in China. Accelerating the development of elderly care, childcare and domestic services is an important measure that is being used to improve people's livelihood, address the aging population issue, and support the implementation of the universal second-child policy, according to a release from the website of the Chinese government on May 29.

There are more than 20 million domestic helpers in China, while demand exceeds 70 million households. If two or three households were served by each domestic helper every day, the shortfall in supply would still be between 10 million and 30 million, China Central Television reported in September 2018.

The training, which Zhao participated in, aims to meet the great demand for domestic helpers of the large number of families with a second child or elderly members. And for Shixiali village, it also constitutes a poverty alleviation method. 

The training school and HSBY will help villagers who successfully obtain a vocational qualification certificate to get jobs in cities. 

The move will strengthen coordination between supply and demand for domestic services, and expand employment channels for people in poor areas, Du Zhiguang, the director of HSBY, told the Global Times.

Women in Shixiali village receive professional instruction on how to swaddle an infant. Photo: Li Qiao/GT

Flexible hours

Yangyuan county, which is located in the northwest of Hebei Province, was designated as a national-level poverty-stricken county in 2012. By the end of 2018, there were still 19,825 people suffering from poverty, Fu Youcai, vice director of the publicity department of the Yangyuan county government, told the Global Times.

Most local villagers in Yangyuan rely on farming for a living, while water shortages and soil desertification limit the possibility of increasing their income by farming, according to Fu.

Shixiali village has a population of 1,364 people from 487 households. Currently, 245 people from 142 households have yet to be lifted out of poverty.

Zhang Xiaoyan, an official in the Shixiali village government, told the Global Times that the young and middle-aged workforce have left the village to work or study. Women aged 40 to 50 are generally left behind to farm and take care of the elderly at home.

The flexible nature of domestic service work is very suited to these "left-behind women" in the village. They can go home to farm during the planting season, and go out to work during the slack season, Zhang said. 

"It costs less for women to have domestic service training compared with having excavator operation, electric welding and other types of training. The training would not affect impoverished women, who have to take care of elderly family members at home every day," Zhang told the Global Times.

It took Zhu Shuqin, a teacher at Aibaibang vocational training school in Zhangjiakou, two hours to drive to Shixiali village, where she gave a 17-day course training villagers eight hours a day.

"When you swaddle the infant, first put his bottom in the swaddling clothes and then his head, which is safer for their delicate spine," Zhu said to the nearly 50 women attending the training for maternity matrons.

Trainees learn not only how to take care of infants, but also how to look after women in a more scientific way after they have given birth. 

Learning to prepare nutritious meals for new mothers is also a key part of the training. Traditionally in China, brown sugar, eggs and millet porridge are three essential sources of nutrition for new mothers. Chicken soup and crucian carp soup are also believed to be beneficial for lactation. 

However, Zhao Xiufang learned from the training that meat from hens should not be used to make chicken soup, as hen estrogen may inhibit maternal milk production. 

She told the Global Times that although she already has two children of her own, she had only just learned that women have to detoxify by having a light diet after giving birth. 

In addition to having training for maternity matrons, Zhao and her "classmates" also learn how to take care of the elderly and receive nursery worker training.

Du of HSBY told the Global Times that all the training is subsidized by the government, so villagers could participate free of charge.  

Although the training is enjoyable and practical, Zhang said that challenges remain in getting left-behind rural women to attend. As most of them are responsible for taking care of elderly family members at home, they cannot go out for work after the training.

"Even if you cannot go out to earn money after the training, these professional skills can help when it comes to taking care of your grandchildren in the future," Zhang said in the hope of encouraging rural women to attend the training.

 Instructors also have the task of encouraging these women who have relatively low education levels and need longer time to grasp new concepts and skills. 

Zhu said that she usually places equal emphasis on lectures and practice during the training sessions, and often praises students in order to build their confidence.

All this training can pay dividends after it is completed. 

Liang Jianmin, manager of Aibaibang vocational training school, told the Global Times that if students pass their exams, they can obtain professional qualification certificates and be assigned jobs. 

The average monthly salary for a maternity matron in Zhangjiakou is 6,500 yuan ($945) to 13,000 yuan, and at least 10,000 yuan in Beijing. Demand is huge in cities thanks to the second-child policy, Liang said.


Life of dignity

Some villagers have already completed previous training sessions held in Dadukou village of Yangyuan and found work in cities, successfully lifting themselves out of poverty.

Lu Hongju, a 40-year-old woman from Jinjiazhuang village of Yangyuan, is working as a massage therapist in Beijing after completing her training. She now earns 8,000 yuan a month, while the monthly income for her whole family was 1,000 yuan from farming.

"I no longer have to borrow money from relatives to pay for my children's tuition fees. Through the massage skills I learned, I can earn money to give my family a better life and have more dignity in front of my friends," Lu told the Global Times.

Lu is also proud that her professional massage techniques can provide pain relief for many senior citizens.

Wang Yuhua, a 47-year-old woman from Xipu village of Yangyuan, attended the same training as Lu and became a maternity matron. She has served clients both in Zhangjiakou and Beijing. Zhangjiaou is located 203 kilometers away from Beijing.

Wang told the Global Times that she always helps new mothers by sharing the professional maternal and childcare knowledge she gained from her training.

Almost 70 percent of new mothers suffer from cracked nipples, and severe cases can also result in mastitis. 

Wang instructs new mothers to breastfeed their babies using a method that better protects the mothers' nipples and prevents the babies from biting them. Wang's income has doubled after getting the training and obtaining professional qualification certificates. Her work as a maternity matron now brings a salary of 7,000 yuan a month.

The changes in these trainees' lives have inspired many rural women to get out of poverty through domestic service training. In 2018, 73 poverty-stricken villages in Yangyuan county were lifted out of poverty, with 18,382 people living above the poverty line. The poverty rate dropped from 20.18 percent in 2017 to 10.18 percent.

In addition to Yangyuan county, offering domestic service training as a means of poverty alleviation has been implemented throughout the country. 

Han Jin, a professor at Hebei GEO University who studies poverty in regions around Beijing, told the Global Times that the demand for domestic service workers is huge due to the second-child policy and ageing population. 

The professional training provided by the government is beneficial for the development of the domestic service industry. The high efficiency of the training and employment will also improve the balance between supply and demand, Han said.

Newspaper headline: Home help needed


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