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Title: Women’s Economic Empowerment in Rural China: The New Socialist Countryside from a Feminist Perspective
Authors: Li, Wendy
Advisors: Truex, Rory
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Class Year: 2015
Abstract: In 2006, China announced the “New Socialist Countryside” initiative, hoping to bring about a new era of rural development and growth. This articulation affirmed the reform and diversification of economic enterprises in rural China, a process which had been in motion since the late 1970s. This thesis studies the diversity of economic institutions and its varied effects on women’s economic empowerment in rural China. Using qualitative data collected from interviews in Lushan County, Henan Province, this thesis examines institutional variation between ownership and production regimes, focusing on employment in private enterprise, state-owned enterprise (SOE), government, household agriculture, and microenterprise (self-employment). By comparing each institution’s effects on components of the Empowerment Model, this thesis argues that the institutional practices of microenterprise and private enterprise create the best conditions for women’s empowerment. China’s diverse economic institutions have attracted significant attention from policymakers, economists, and business leaders alike. While most studies focus on the profitability or ideology of various firm types, I instead study each firm’s effect on the female experience. In this thesis, I reframe the development of the “New Socialist Countryside” in a feminist lens, adopting a qualitative methodology which gives weight to individual experiences experienced through social hierarchies and historical legacies. Specifically, I apply the Empowerment Model, formulated by Naila Kabeer (1999), to data collected from interviews I conducted with 23 working women in Lushan County, Henan Province in 2014. The Empowerment Model, which is a cyclical process comprised of resources, agency, and achievement, measures an individual’s ability to determine and make decisions regarding her own life. I use the model for its adaptable and non-authoritative method of measuring empowerment, a variable that is by definition self-determined. The three components are triangulated: in order to satisfy the definition of empowerment, individuals must be able to realize achievement through their own resources and agency. Based on reported experiences, private enterprises generate better outcomes for women throughout the empowerment model by providing greater resources (income, assets), more agency (flexibility, ownership, and capacity-building), and more opportunities for achievement (promotion and development). My findings reflect these experiences, although institutions and empowerment are only weakly correlated. I then examine the role of patrilocal tradition as a negative confounder in the relationship between economic institution and economic empowerment. Patrilocality is defined as the practice of a married heterosexual couple residing and identifying with the husband’s family. The institution of patrilocality has existed for centuries, and acts as a proxy for practices and norms which objectify and oppress women. I find that patrilocality has an extractive effect on empowerment, by reducing a woman’s base level of resources, eliminating opportunities for women to exercise agency, and causing women to internalize their oppression in a way which decenters achievement. Ultimately, my findings indicate that the CPC has a significant role to play in both articulating policy and ideology which advances the role of the woman in the workplace. The CPC would significantly improve the livelihoods of rural women by increasing access and support for women in micro- and small-medium enterprises, and creating policy which disincentivizes patrilocality. While the fight against oppressive gender norms ultimately relies on a cultural shift, the CPC can promote egalitarian norms by visibly returning to their feminist and egalitarian roots.
Extent: 113 pages
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en_US
Appears in Collections:Woodrow Wilson School, 1929-2016

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