85% of China’s impoverished citizens live in rural areas and leave the countryside to seek employment within urban areas. This has resulted in migrant workers making up the vast majority of factory-based workers. There are about 150 million migrant workers that do not receive any state benefits or provisions. In the hope of escaping poverty in these rural areas, migrant workers find themselves enduring harsh conditions. Female migrant workers face discrimination as the national law of hukou prevented rural individuals from permanently migrating to urbanized cities. Once this law had been lifted in the 1980s, it granted the freedom for rural workers to migrate to urban areas even though they are faced with harsh conditions. The rapid economic development of Shenzhen and the advancement of its position in the global economy depends greatly on female rural to urban and job sector movement.
The inequalities remain existent within all aspects of life for Chinese women. However, these inequalities are particularly prominent within the factory. The feminization of industrial work in developing countries can be argued as a primary result of women being the cheapest source of labour within the global economy. As China moved towards a market economy, cheap rural labour became extremely helpful in terms of continuing to develop the country and fuel its growth. Furthermore, this led to the use of women being the most easily accessible and cheapest and form of labour available. But also the most pliant to control.
In 2017, 61.5% of Chinese women participated in China’s labour force, making China have one of Asia-Pacific’s highest labour participation by females. Although such a significant number of women play a vital role in Chinese employment, this is often in poorly paid roles and as a result are marginalized and oppressed.
Gender plays a significant role in determining who is able to complete certain jobs and tasks. For example, low-wage female factory workers have limited access to employment opportunities that will improve their skills within the political economy. Cultural formalities placed within China are placed at a disadvantage for women.
Most advertisements targeting females include specific requirements they must meet, such as height and weight. These requirements put women in an exploitative state before they have even begun work in the factory. This can relate to the emergence of the ‘third world women’ being the most ideal workers. For example, in East Asia, this term can be described as the ‘Oriental Girls’. A Malaysian government advertisement states “her hands are small, and she works fast with extreme care… Who, therefore, could not be better qualified by nature and inheritance to contribute to the efficiency of a bench-assembly line than the oriental girl.”
On a social level, the stress of the low status of Chinese women is deeply rooted in the traditional Chinese family system, which is profoundly patriarchal. In Chinese society, women have been traditionally deprived in all areas of their lives. The female gender as a whole has been submerged under male authority. Through China’s patriarchal society, men are placed in a position of power in these factories and leaves women in a vulnerable state. Women were, and still to this day, are born into a powerless and patriarchal system that carries out through labour in factory work. As a result, this becomes normalized for women from a young age and harms future generations. This creates a cycle of intergenerational poverty, as an impoverished lifestyle is induced by the socially challenged background of previous generations.
The dormitory regime is also a prominent proponent of gender inequalities. Foreign-invested firms are building dorms to suit their needs and are placed within the compound of the factory. As a result, those in a position of authority are able to have significantly more control over the worker’s daily lives. This includes their wages, what they eat, how long and often they work. Through this regime, most of their workers are young females and are working long and demanding days while earning next to no wage. Dormitory regimes are perceived to be serving global production but generate hidden costs which are taken on by female workers. This is shown in the documentary, 'China Blue' which follows the life within a dormitory regime alongside factory-based workers. Throughout the documentary, the audience is able to see first-hand the intense conditions faced by millions daily. A young female migrant worker is followed throughout her journey in a jean cutting factory. The intense exploitation and isolation faced are explained through the use of dormitory regimes.
The role that technology plays within work is substantial. Through the advancement of technology, the cruel jobs that women have been placed in through factory-based work on a daily basis have been replaced with various pieces of technology. The application of technology allows for a vast number of jobs to be at risk. For example, an Apple and Samsung supplier, Foxconn has replaced approximately 60, 000 workers with robots. Through the implementation of a robot workforce, this is not only placing females at an extreme disadvantage. Also, the advancement of technology and mechanization is diminishing a larger variety of employment opportunities for women. New technologies tend to employ men. This is due to the perceived inability of women upgrading their skills and investment in capital intensive industries.
The diminishment of employment opportunities for women results is not only rapidly increasing, but follows the wider pattern of normalized oppression.