In order to engage rural women’s participation in local elections, management, and economic and social development, the Women’s Federation of Hunan Province has begun a program titled “Rural Women Participate in Village Governance.” On November 6, 2001, the Hunan Province Department of Civil Affairs and the Women’s Federation drafted an official communiqué titled “Document Guaranteeing the Reelection of Female Members to the Village Committees.” This document was the first official resolution in the nation stipulating explicitly that women must be included in village committees. It also stipulated stricter enforcement than previous village committee organization laws passed in Hunan.
To make rural women conscious of their rights under law, and to encourage them to participate equally in local politics, Hunan instituted a series of training classes in politics and gender issues for village women. According to new regulations, villagers are actively encouraged to nominate qualified women, and each Village Committee in Hunan is required to have at least one woman representative. Additional courses are available after local elections to train newly selected women members of the Village Committee in management and governance. To reward women committee members who perform well, the Hunan Provincial government has also instituted a series of commendations for excellent working performance, reinforcing and encouraging women’s participation in local administration.
Education is the cornerstone of this project: to improve the overall administrative know-how of rural women in Hunan, the government organized committees of local women to exchange their political experiences and identify target areas where they needed more training. Representatives of some of these committees were sent to foreign countries to learn more about gender and politics abroad. The project’s overseers employed both Party schools and schools for women to teach locals about governance, while long-distance education networks became vehicles for teaching women living in villages too remote from such institutions to attend regular classes. Rural women trained in governance currently maintain a Women’s Friendship Network across Hunan, sharing information on innovations and obstacles they face at the Village Committee level of governance.
Beyond its goals of increasing women’s roles in local government, this initiative has also changed the operating mechanisms of the provincial government by encouraging inter-departmental communication and cooperation. This project began through the collaboration of the Hunan Province branch of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the Women’s Federation, and the Civil Affairs Department of the provincial government, all of which are independent administrative entities. The three organizations collaborated over methodology for supervising the project, publicizing the initiative, and educating local women to prepare them for political life. This cooperation created a lasting model in Hunan Province for inter-agency projects.
In addition to education and advertising initiatives, Hunan sought innovative means to popularize women’s political activity in the villages, enlisting local folk performers as part of their marketing campaign. Local opera and shadow-puppet troupes were contracted to perform shows publicizing related laws and policies.
This four-year old project has shown decisive results: there are currently 49,903 woman members in 47,471 Village Committees throughout the province of Hunan. The Hunan Province Women’s Federation has conducted 29 training courses for more than 300 women in 10 selected cities and counties. The Ministry of Civil Affairs, the All-China Women’s Federation, and the Ford Foundation have all commended this pilot program for integrating women into local government. More than 400 officials from 10 provinces and cities have come to Hunan Province to study this initiative.