Menu Close

China population issues 30 June 1995

The Earth Times/Malaysia Report June 30 –July 14 1995

A Meeting with Zhang Zhirong on Population

By Ashali Varma

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia –“I worked for the government for a decade. I was one of the pioneers for women and population and family planning working in cooperation with Unfpa as well as bilateral and multi-lateral agencies,” said Zhang Zhirong, a dynamic and articulate woman who has been the director at the China Population and Welfare Foundation for the

last few years. “Under the new policy of opening up and reform, NGOs are given more importance from the government and the public,” she said.

Started in 1987 the objective of the foundation is to improve quality of life for women and children. As an NGO supported by the government she feels she has a lot more flexibility and can help women from rural areas in China, who are poorer and need help. She said the workshop at Malacca was an experience which she could learn a lot from and share with her colleagues.

“We need to have reproductive health education to be included in the school curriculum. I have learnt how different countries approach the problem and that we in China can also do it,” said Zhang, who was interviewed during the workshop.

 A recent survey showed there was a shocking ignorance about reproductive health among adolescents. “It is a taboo subject and there is resistance from schools and parents. Teachers are not trained to teach it,” said Zhang, “There is an enormous need with over a 100 million young people in China. Now there are plans to have centers for counseling and research on sex education and publications for teenagers have started.”

“I think the government can be helped a lot by NGOs working at the grassroots level here.  We don’t want to repeat the government’s role but we can supplement it. We started the Program for Happiness.  It is a program designed to help disadvantaged women in the poor rural areas, through activities of poverty eradication such as income generation and improvement in reproductive health and health in general.” said Zhang.  They have been able to raise a million yuan about $128,000.

With a population of over a billion people, China has 80 million people who are living in poverty which means that they earn less than US$90 per person, annually.  “So far we have selected four provinces and have targeted about 400 women which will cost us 400,000 yuan initially.  We hope to help these women so that they can use the money to start a small business, and make a profit and pay us back.  We have decided to use 30 percent of the budget on education and health,” said Zhang.

“According to our survey about 50 percent of the women in these areas suffer from some kind of health problem due to a lack of knowledge,” Zhang said, adding “Apart from a comprehensive health check up, our training would include teaching them about hygiene, reproductive health, literacy and skills to earn money on whatever they would like to do.”