Women setting their sights higher in Xinjiang

Updated: Sep 6, 2021 China Daily Print
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Maryam Mamatali [Photo/China Daily]

A photograph of 34-year-old Maryam Mamatali is positioned on a wall at a factory run by Nanda New Agriculture Group in Kashgar, a city in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

Her smile exudes the quiet confidence of a woman who has risen from working on a milk production line to become manager of an entire workshop.

"Since childhood, I have always been very hardworking. When I joined the company, I was really interested in learning and was a fast learner," said Maryam, a member of the Uygur ethnic group. "The bosses noticed my progress, so they really believed in me. They felt that I could do this work and shoulder more responsibility, so eventually they made me a manager."

Maryam, who has been with Nanda for 11 years, said many people admire her for joining one of the largest and most reputable companies in Kashgar.

The job also changed her life in a more personal way-she found love.

"When I joined the company, my husband's father worked there as a guard. He saw me and introduced me to his son," Maryam said.

The couple, who dated for just two months before getting married at a ceremony attended by company bosses, now has three children-a son and younger twin daughters.

"This job has been especially good," said Maryam, whose salary has greatly helped the family. "We have renovated our home into a villa with a small fruit garden. When I have to buy something for my kids, I no longer worry about it, and before winter sets in this year, I'm planning to buy a new car."

Women such as Maryam constitute a growing employment force, taking up 47.4 percent of the 480,900 newly created urban jobs in the region in 2019, according to a white paper titled Respecting and Protecting the Rights of All Ethnic Groups in Xinjiang released by the State Council Information Office in July.

In addition, the region has set goals for women to comprise more than 35 percent of its senior professional and technical personnel, and to occupy over 25 percent of managerial positions, supervisory boards and boards of directors in State-owned enterprises. These targets are set in the outlines for women's and children's development in Xinjiang for 2011-2020 issued by the regional government in 2011.

Aliya Imam sits at a table with her child in the homestay her family runs in rural Kashgar, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY

Road to prosperity

More women in Xinjiang are working diligently, determined to pursue better lives for themselves and those close to them.

From the shaded patio at the home of 49-year-old Nuryam Ruzi, a Uygur resident of Agexiang village, Kuqa city, mountains in the distance glow in the afternoon sun.

The mountains are close to the Dushanzi-Kuqa highway, one of the most scenic roads in China-and also a route to prosperity for villagers such as Nuryam.

"In recent years, many tourists have been coming to this area. When they arrive, they ask us if there are any places to stay where they can get a meal," said Nuryam, whose husband works in the fields and son is a policeman in Korla, Xinjiang. "In my home, there's a lot of space, but not many people," she added.

At the end of last year, Nuryam decided to open a homestay, one of about 30 such establishments in Agexiang. Young people in the area have played a vital promotional role by listing homestays such as hers on popular online platforms.

"In the high season for tourism, I can make 200 yuan to 300 yuan ($31 to $46) a day and have a good income," she said happily, sporting an ankle-length summer dress printed with daisies.

Life has changed dramatically for Nuryam and her family members. As unskilled farmers, they were impoverished for a time while paying for her son's college tuition. They escaped from poverty in 2017 with help from the government.

Xinjiang has embraced business development as one of its measures to alleviate poverty, and more women in the region are pursuing entrepreneurial paths.

Attracted by positive reviews for Nuryam's homestay, a family of three arrived to check in-evidence that her hard work is paying off.

Pan Yulian, 79, has helped educate over 2,000 children. WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY

Educational efforts

When Pan Yulian moved back to Shule county, Kashgar prefecture, in 1992, she caught some children in her community misbehaving during the summer vacation.

She asked them what they were doing, and the children said they had nothing to do and there was nobody at home. She said they could come to her house and she would show them how to speak some words in Mandarin and read a few characters.

The children followed her home, marking the start of Pan's efforts to help local young people through free education, particularly those without anyone to look after them during the day.

Pan, 79, has helped more than 2,000 elementary school-aged children in her community, who have attended her classes to learn Mandarin, math and what she terms "fundamental manners and values".

"You have to learn how to be a good person before doing anything else," said Pan, who has never demanded payment for her efforts and whose only requirement is that students try their best.

Xinjiang has set a goal for women of primary working age to receive on average 10.8 years of education, and for those joining the workforce to have 13 years of education, according to the outlines for women's and children's development in the region for 2011-2020. This document also states that Xinjiang should aim to have 35 percent of female high school graduates accepted into higher educational institutions.

Some of Pan's female students have been accepted by such institutions, attending universities in distant cities such as Shanghai.

Two potential college students-Uygur girls wearing pretty dresses-stood alongside Pan. Speaking softly in Mandarin, they said they were 8 years old and did homework after classes with Pan.

"Teaching these young kids makes me happy," Pan said. "When they grow up and learn to behave, they can help their families."

Reporter Jocelyn Eikenburg (center) poses with Nuryam Ruzi (right), owner of a homestay in Agexiang village, and a neighbor. CHINA DAILY

Confidence voiced

According to Ding Guifeng, head of Urumqi Youai Hospital, women in Xinjiang are very confident and optimistic.

Wearing a white, knee-length doctor's coat, Ding looks poised and far younger than her 54 years. Working as an obstetrician for more than 30 years, she has made it to the top.

"Through my passion, perseverance and hard work I rose to become hospital head. I love this profession. Providing a good service to women and children has always been one of my goals, and I also feel that they need everyone's attention," she said.

During her career, Ding has witnessed far-reaching changes in women's and children's healthcare in Xinjiang.

"All childbirths in the hospital are now supervised by medical staff. This has greatly reduced deaths among pregnant women and infants. I'm very happy to say that Xinjiang has made great efforts in significantly reducing the number of deaths of children younger than 5," she said.

A report by Li Xiaoxia, special researcher for the Xinjiang Development Research Center, said the region's maternal mortality rate dropped from 43.41 per 100,000 in 2010 to 26.65 per 100,000 in 2018, while the infant mortality rate fell from 26.58 per 1,000 to 14.02 per 1,000 during the same period.

According to data in 2015, life expectancy for the region's residents reached 74.82 years on average.

Meanwhile, Xinjiang has introduced a health program for all women, with free screening for breast and cervical cancer at facilities such as Urumqi Youai Hospital.

Ding Guifeng, head of Urumqi Youai Hospital, holds a newborn. CHINA DAILY

At the hospital, posters placed in all departments carry the name and photograph of a designated supervisory nurse alongside the instruction,"Please contact me if you have a problem." The posters also carry QR codes and contact phone numbers.

Ding said: "We recognize that people's living standards are improving day by day. We need to guarantee life, while at the same time create the warmth of a family .... All our care is centered on families and patients."

Mao Weihua and Xing Wen contributed to this story.

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