China / Society

Xinjiang Uygur women pursue a different path

(Xinhua) Updated: 2012-05-20 17:11

URUMQI - It has been two years since Hawagul Ibrahim returned home to take a post as a village official in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region -- a decision that both surprised and divided her friends and family.

"It's so difficult for us women to go outside, become a college graduate and land a job in a big city, so nobody with a normal mind would return. I was shocked when she returned to our village, " said Humargul, Hawagul's primary school classmate who has been a farmer since graduating from junior high school.

In 2009, Hawagul quit her job as a computer science teacher in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang, and brought her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter with her to Jujube village along with new ideas on how to live life.

Jujube is located in a remote part of Luntai county, which is mostly inhabited by China's Uygur minority. A bumpy 18 km from a town in Luntai county, the village is 640 km away from the regional capital of Urumqi and 3,800 km from the nation's heart of Beijing.

As per Uygur tradition, most women in Jujube used to stay at home growing crops and taking care of children.

But Hawagul has taught them how to do embroidery and make artificial flowers. "An embroidered picture which is 80 centimeters long and 30 centimeters wide will take me three months to finish and can sell for 2,000 yuan, covering much of my family's living expense." (2,000 yuan is equal to $316.)

A choir and a dancing team made up of senior female residents has also formed. Badam, 55, said she could have been a professional singer in Urumqi if only her parents had agreed to let her go. She said she feels excited to finally realize her dream of being a singing star among her fellow villagers.

Hawagul also grouped villagers together and taught them advanced techniques for growing apricots and wheat so they can harvest more.

Villagers are richer and more open-minded now, said Elikem, deputy head of the town of Karabag, where Jujube village is located.

She said because of Hawagul's influence, parents are willing to pay higher tuition fees and send children to schools in the county, the prefecture capital or even Urumqi, where they can receive a better education.

"Hawagul is my 10-year-old son's role model. He is determined to go to college so that he can know as much as she does," said Humargul. "I will support him no matter how expensive the tuition will be."

Like Hawagul, more and more Uygur minority women are stepping away from domestic life. In the town of Karabag alone, more than half of all government officials are female.

Moreover, women in Xinjiang have become more willing to pursue careers. In 2010, 41.5 percent of female residents in Xinjiang had a job, up from just 14.4 percent 10 years ago, according to the first region-wide survey on women's social status, which was carried out by the regional Women's Federation and Statistics Bureau in April this year.

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