Rural Women Learning from Themselves and from Each Other


To the ‘sisters’ from Yunnan and Guizhou provinces, ideal village life includes 
traditional wisdom – the drum tower, folksong exchanges, batik, local seeds…

It is a rare occasion for village women to be able to set aside their work and attend a workshop! No wonder the ‘sisters’ have been full of curiosity, anticipation and appreciation! 

In the first of a two-part workshop, launched in October 2020, women from various areas of Yunnan and Guizhou provinces got to know each other. They enjoyed meals together and began to open themselves up to deeper processes, such as sharing their life stories in form of theatre, and applying a gendered perspective and traditional ecological values in the form of community research. They have come to see different sides of themselves, and each other. Some women have felt amazement learning about various plants; others have felt a sense of accomplishment completing the unfamiliar life story theatre process. There has been so much growth.

In ethnic minority communities across Southwest China, rural women are key to passing on traditional culture and ecological wisdom and they hold important roles in community life. This is especially evident in matriarchal societies, like the Naxi and Mosuo communities in Lijiang, Yunnan Province. The Rural Women Development Foundation (RWDF) works with Naxi and Mosuo; they are aware of the women’s inner strength and agency, and a critical sensibility in weighing up various options to find suitable ways of living. This is in spite of the fact that in the mainstream market economy model, rural women face inordinately limited learning and development opportunities.

PCD has supported RWDF’s learning network on sustainable living with rural women leaders from Yunnan and Guizhou provinces. Face-to-face workshops, online sessions, field research, and more! Participants have become more aware about public affairs, building up their inner strength, and exploring ways to achieve sustainable living with a gendered perspective. 

Before the workshops, RWDF prepared by conducting community assessments. They visited project villages and interviewed the recruited participants to gain a better understanding of each community’s culture, including livelihood opportunities, rituals, the natural landscape, and the gender division of labour. Overall, RWDF has found the women to have a strong interest to learn, with a wide knowledge base, a sense of personal identity, and a deep pride in their own culture. Some women are knowledgeable about local herbs; some are skilled in traditional art such as singing and batik; some weave Dongba motifs into their work; some grow traditional seed varieties in the traditional way... Wisdom is endless.

The second face-to-face workshop delves deeper into how gender affects the division of labour at home and in the community, and how things might be changing. Through sharing, participants have begun to see how the division affects rights, opportunities, resource allocation, and customs. They imagine how their family and community can improve in the future and what they themselves can contribute.

Looking back, the women leaders say they feel more assertive. They are more willing to express themselves. They have gained experience, support, and camaraderie. Sisters in Yunnan have been invited to meet fellow sisters in the neighbouring province of Guizhou – they have shared so much together. For RWDF, this surprising openness to new perspectives and experiences reflects growth and learning, and they feel encouraged to continue on the journey, with a sense of promise and positivity.