Direct election of delegates to the Women's Association in Qianxi County, Hebei Province started in December 1999. It is aimed at encouraging women in rural areas to participate in government and political affairs.
Firstly, before direct election was implemented, women in rural areas in Qianxi County showed little enthusiasm for participating in government and political affairs due to traditional Chinese ideas that men and women play different roles outside and inside the house respectively. Therefore, a large number of women were satisfied with cooking and caring for their families all day long in the house and showed little concern for the village administrative affairs.
Secondly, there was a low level of participation of women in political affairs. In 1996, when the villagers were electing the members of the Fourth Session of the Village Council, women members accounted for only 12 percent of the total.
Thirdly, there was a serious problem of life-long tenure of cadres in the women's association: 30 percent of the directors of the women's association were over 50 years old. Being elder and low in quality, most members of the Women's Association failed to meet the requirements of the new era.
Fourthly, as they were mostly appointed by higher authorities, women cadres were responsible to the higher authorities but not to the public; therefore they had no influence among the masses because of low public support.
In order to promote the participation of women in government and political affairs and the development of democracy at the rural grassroot levels, the Women's Association of Qianxi County sought a positive and creative solution to this problem. Before the change of office of the Fifth Session of Village Councils in 1999, the Women's Association of Qianxi County selected 114 villages as pilot sites for direct election of members of village women's associations. This was a bold action of changing from appointment to direct election of the cadres of the women's associations. Direct election is a system of free election without candidates. The election result are announced on the spot on the basis of secret ballots of qualified women voters. The chairwoman of the Town Women's Association issues a "Certificate of Election" on the spot to those newly elected members of the women's association. As it was their first experience, the Women Association of Qianxi County made careful preparations. They are as follows.
- Having won the support of the county Party committee and the People's Government, the Women's Association of Qianxi County developed the Series of Actions for Promoting Women's Participation in Government and Political Affairs and passed it on to the towns and villages.
- The Women's Association of Qianxi County used such media as TV, broadcasting, and propaganda bulletins to launch a publicity campaign concerning the laws and regulations, the significance of women participation in government and political affairs, and model women cadres.
- In addition to running training courses for more than 1500 women to enhance their sense of participation, the Women's Association of Qianxi County organized 100 elite women in field surveys, simulation of direct election and intensive training for participation in government and political affairs.
- In compliance with the Regulations Concerning the Institution of Village Councils, the Women's Association of Qianxi County circulated some specific documents such as Protocol of Democratic Election of Women' Association Members in the Rural Areas for improving the organization and operation of direct election of women's association members in rural areas.
The system for direct election of women's association members adopted by the Women's Association of Qianxi County produced outstanding results. Firstly, it has greatly increased the enthusiasm of the broad masses of women for participating in government and political affairs and enhanced their sense of democracy as indicated by increased election-participation rates of 70 percent to 96 percent. Secondly, it has improved the quality of the women cadres. In the election, candidates had a very level of high enthusiasm, as each village on average had three to five candidates delivering election speeches. The number of candidates reached 13 in Chuanzhaung Village of Yinzhuang Town. In the course of these direct elections, a large group of young and capable women who are strongly supported by the women, have good political ideas, are cultured and competitive, and are dedicated to women's causes have been elected as members of women's associations. Thirdly, the practice has solved the problem of association members being responsible only to the higher authorities but not to the women in the community, and thus increased the sense of service of women cadres. This has not only publicized and implemented the guidelines and policies of the Party and government in the rural areas but also maintained the legitimate rights of the broad mass of women. Fourthly, the practice has increased the participation of women in political affairs and the promotion of women to government positions. In the past, few directors of women's association were concurrently members of village councils. Now, since the directly elected directors of women's associations all have strong public support, most of them were elected as village council members, and some were even elected as directors or deputy directors of their village councils. This is really a breakthrough, as none of the previous directors of village councils were women, and it filled a gap in cadres' history in Qinaxi County.
The success of the direct election of members of women's associations in Qianxi County has aroused the attention of the media, and many reports have been reported on CCTV, and in China Women News, Forum of Rural Towns and Villages and Hebei Daily. This creative action of Qianxi County has great value for promoting women's participation in government and political affairs in China. The Women's Association of Qianxi County has announced that based on the experiences and lessons from the pilot sites, the system of direct election of women's association members will be implemented countywide during the change of office in 2002.