Abstract: Community Education for Women Workers: Inspirations from a Reproductive Health Project in an Industrial Community (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

671P Community Education for Women Workers: Inspirations from a Reproductive Health Project in an Industrial Community

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
GAO Xianda, PhD, Research Student, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Background and Purpose: The 40 years of reform and opening-up policy have made China a famous world factory, and women workers contribute a lot. But equal citizenship and social welfare are still impossible for them, they are labelled as a vulnerable group. Existing studies focus on multiple structural oppressions on Chinese women workers, such as capital, patriarchy, and the state, and they pointed out that they cannot change the oppressive structures. However, this study believes that while the structure is oppressive for women workers, it is also leading them to gradually realize their own gender and class identity.

Based on a community education project for women workers' reproductive health in a Chinese typical industrial community, this study will explore how female workers themselves define their health problems, especially how they relate these personal troubles to structural oppression of patriarchy and capital. This study is also interested in whether their changes in consciousness and action will lead female workers to the way to emancipation.

Methods: Participatory observation and interview are the methods used to collect data for this study. When the project was planned and implemented, I was one of the social workers in charge of it. So almost all the activities of this project are recorded in my fieldwork notes. In addition, I interviewed 7 key female workers who took an active part in community advocacy and industrial action. In those interviews, we talked more about their personal feeling and troubles as women and workers, their daily life in the community and assembly line, and the origins of their bad health condition. All the raw data were transcribed verbatim and coded thematically.

Findings: Firstly, the project reveals that the issue of health can be well defined by women workers themselves. They admitted that they do not have enough medical knowledge, but they quickly and accurately identified that factory administration and the cultural taboo on gender and sex are the origins of their bad health. Secondly, most of the women workers felt frustrated to challenge the unjust factory administration and gender culture, although they got useful information on medical knowledge and became more confident through community advocacy activities. Thirdly, by discovering their inability to change the oppressive structure, they realized their disadvantages in gender and class and determined to go on their resistance in daily life.

Conclusion and Implications: Social workers should pay more attention to the subjectivity of the vulnerable group of women workers. By encouraging their relationship building and public participation, female workers are able to see and support each other. Social work can promote women workers' individual and collective gender identity and class consciousness, and even collective action in the community and societal level.  It is in these actions of self-discovery and self-obsessing that collective empowerment path of women workers is hidden, giving birth to class and gender equality of Chinese female workers.