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In the last three decades in China, few and declining numbers of women have participated in the main grassroots institutions of rural government, the village committee and the village branch of the Chinese Communist Party. This article examines a project aimed at addressing this problem, initiated in 2003 in Heyang county, Shaanxi, by one of China's largest and most influential women's nongovernmental organizations, West Women, together with the state-affiliated Women's Federation. The article discusses the goals, strategies, and short-term results of the Heyang Project. It then discusses the longer-term potential of the Heyang model for achieving greater gender equity and women's empowerment in rural China. Previous studies have critiqued Chinese approaches to the goal of increasing women's participation in village government, but have not questioned the desirability or need for the goal itself. In this article, the author takes the critique one step further, to provoke questions about the very desirability of increasing women's participation in village government. She concludes that when viewed in light of other recent trends, notably large-scale rural out-migration and tax reforms, increasing women's participation in village government may not have as desirable or significant an impact on gender relations as has previously been assumed.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2008

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