Building an Extended Family: Practice of Feminist Philanthropy in Women-Led Non-Governmental Elder Homes in China
Methods: Three-week ethnographic fieldwork was carried out in the 12 non-governmental elder homes (three of them are women-led) in L District in Taizhou, a city in south China, in 2011, and qualitative data of their service models and interactions with the local state and the market were gathered through three ways: participant observation; 22 in-depth interviews with service providers, service users, and local officials; and local archives of elder homes. The data were synthesized to answer how a feminist approach of eldercare distinguishes the women-led organizations from the others in the same district, and how it impacts the development of social service in China.
Results: The devoted women owners build the elder homes using family resources and aim to provide adequate family-like care to the aging. As the first generation of “liberated” socialist girls, they disapprove of the market ideology of profiting from care giving and insist that the local state should be more responsive to the needs of the elderly. To treat the elders as their own parents and to turn the care centers into “homes” in every aspect are the shared and highlighted themes in the institutional rationales of these women-led non-governmental elder homes. They attempt to develop and maintain reciprocal relationships based on intimacy, mutual respect and active involvement in decision-making, or in other words, power equality, with the elders, their families, and as well as the staff members, so as to achieve the service goals. Such interactions challenge the dominance of service providers over clients in social service delivery and owners over employed staff in nonprofit organizations, and present an innovative approach of feminist philanthropy in the emerging third sector in China. The owners of market-driven elder homes mock their organizations because they never plan to recoup the family investment; the local officials refer to them as “trouble makers” because they persistently demand for more state support. But the women owners cherish the belief that institutional eldercare should be delivered in their way.
Conclusions: A feminist approach of eldercare, in pursuit of social justice, occurs in the marginalized women-led service organizations and demonstrates some resilience of the nonprofit sector to the state and the market in China. Academic research, public policies, and professional training in social service need to scrutinize these grassroots innovations and offer support and assistance in finance, human resources, and evaluation to the pioneer endeavors.