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Understanding Rural Women Factory Workers’ Migration and Employment Experiences: A Study in Shandong Province, China Open Access


Other title
Chinese rural women workers
Rural-to-urban migration
lived experience
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Wang, Yongjie
Supervisor and department
Brodie, Janine (Political Science)
Examining committee member and department
Houlden, Gordon (Political Science)
Byrne, Siobhan (Political Science)
Shultz, Lynette (Educational Policy Studies)
Goodman, David (China Studies at Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University)
Department of Political Science

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
The migration of Chinese rural workers to urban centers represents one of the largest movements of peoples globally in the past century. While previous studies have focused on rural migrants as a whole, research on rural migrant women has not yet been fully developed. This thesis addresses the question of how rural women workers in China have experienced their migration and paid employment in factories, using official public statistics, policy documents, and, especially 86 in-depth interviews with rural women workers and on-site observations. Two rounds of fieldwork were conducted in three factories -- one textile factory and two garment factories -- in Shandong province between August and November 2013 and between January and April 2015. The thesis examines different layers of structures that impact rural women’s employment, including the broader socio-economic and political contexts, regional backgrounds, household composition, and personal factors. The thesis finds that the rural migrant population is one of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in contemporary China, but also that rural migrant women experience distinctly gendered forms of disadvantage. For women, the intersection of their rural hukou status, low income and inferior economic status, precarious employment status, and traditional gender roles has compounded their experiences of marginalization. In China, the Women in Development (WID) thinking is still prevalent among economic and development planners. The WID approach assumes that through participation in paid employment, women can lift themselves and their families out of poverty. This thesis concludes that WID thinking does not go far enough, neglecting many complicated challenges that employed women experience, including income poverty, abusive and unhealthy working conditions, precarious employment, informal employment arrangements, traditional gender identities, gender division of labor, and chains of care among women within the family. Due to the commodification of rural society and the deficit of care in rural areas, women are expected to be both wage earners and caregivers. Many women, moreover, are sandwiched between caring for their children and aging parents. These work-life conflicts are exacerbated by long working hours, non-negotiable overtime work, and lack of flexible hours. This study, therefore, offers recommendations for multiple actors, including economic and development planners, local governments, industries, and women workers themselves. It also pushes us to rethink the complicated meaning of employment for women in periods of dramatic economic transition.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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