The Chinese Working Women Network (CWWN) was set up in 1996 as a non-governmental organization with the mission to promote better lives for Chinese migrant women workers by developing feminist awareness and workers’ empowerment. Our core members are labor organizers, feminists, university professors, researchers, social workers, cultural activists, workers and students. Our goal is to empower migrant women workers to strive for sustainable development in China.
Our Origins | Our Work
In 19 November 1993, a major fire erupted in a Hong Kong-owned toy factory in Shenzhen. Of the 87 workers who died in the fire, 86 were women workers. The Italian brand that the factory produced for ignored their responsibility for the incident. In response to the fire, Hong Kong labor activists, university students and social workers held a campaign to provide emergency aid for the victims and their families as well as to fight for compensation from the factory and the brand.
Three years later, in 1996, CWWN was founded in Hong Kong by some of the activists who emerged during the campaign and became the first labor NGO to set up a community-based service center in the mainland. Our original women’s education center was set up in Nanshan district, Shenzhen, to conduct education and training programs and provide a platform for mutual support among women workers. Beginning in 2000, on top of our service center work, we began to organize regular hospital visits to support occupational injury workers and intervene in occupational disease cases. The occupational injury support program became another central component of CWWN’s work.
Apart from community centers and occupational injury support, CWWN also works with different parties to contribute to the betterment of workers’ lives. We provide internship programs and concerted trainings to university students, to engage them in worker issues; conduct training-the-trainer programs, to share our experience in migrant workers’ service; conduct in-plant trainings in cooperation with brands and MSI; and have published an oral history of women workers.
Community-based service centers
In 1996, CWWN opened a women workers service center in Guangdong’s manufacturing zone. The center is regarded as a platform to help women workers defend their labor rights, both by means of training and education that allow women workers to become more aware of their rights and resources, and through the development of a mutual support network where women can build solidarity in facing the same injustices. Our centers allow women workers to obtain information on occupational health and labor law and well as gender issues. Psychological counseling and legal consultations are also made available to our injured workers mutual aid network. In addition to education and training, our community-based service center model provides women workers with space for after-work and holiday activities, creating a healthy space for socialization outside of work and encouraging women workers to express themselves first in intimate and then in public environments.
Training and education
CWWN believes that if women workers that knowledge is key to empowering women to confront their problems both in the workplace and in the family and community. Regular trainings we provide include: (1) gender consciousness and women’s health, including healthy sex and reproduction, psychological health, social gender roles, women’s equality, and women’s rights in the workplace; (2) occupational injury prevention and handling, including work safety, legal regulations on occupational safety, and compensation procedures for occupational injuries; (3) labor law, including work hours and compensation regulations, social security, trade union law and employee-employer dispute handling; and (4) leadership training, including basic concepts on worker and gender rights, interpersonal communication skills and planning skills.
Occupational injury support
Since 2000, CWWN has been conducting a program of regular hospital visits to provide occupational injury workers with both emotional and legal support. Our occupational injury mutual aid network consists of volunteers and occupational injury workers who distribute basic legal information to occupational injury workers and offer support in obtaining proper compensation as well as with adjusting to life after injuries. Workers continue to participate in a mutual aid network during and after their own recovery and legal fight, supporting others in the process.
Gender education and advocacy
Over the past 20 years, though we incorporate gender consciousness into all of our work, we nevertheless insist on maintaining a separate gender program at each location in which we work. Our gender education addresses topics from the questioning of social gender roles and women’s secondary position in society, to family relationships, to women’s rights in the workplace and women’s health. With our many years of experience in migrant women workers’ training and education, we periodically provide systematic training to other NGO and social workers concerned with migrant women workers. In recent years, we have also been cooperating with feminist groups for policy change advocacy. Through this collaboration, migrant women worker issues have become an agenda of these other women’s groups, linking up the feminist movement and migrant workers issues.
With growing international concern about corporate social responsibility, an increasing number of multi-national corporations are paying attention to the rights and safety of workers in the manufacturing process. Many multi-national corporations have formulated Codes of Conduct in order to guarantee the basic rights of workers in the workplace.
For the regulations stipulated in such Codes of Conduct to be effective, it is necessary for both factory workers and factory management to understand the content of and intent behind such Codes. To promote the proper implementation of these new CSR procedures, since 2000, CWWN has developed a series of in-factory trainings. Our trainings promote awareness of worker’s rights and employer’s duties by introducing concepts of occupational health, labor law, corporate social responsibility and safe manufacturing to both workers and management. At the same time, we help to build internal communication mechanisms between workers and management, allowing for proper communication when problems occur in implementation.
CWWN provides internship opportunities to university students as a way to expose them to the situation and needs of migrant (women) workers. We offer young scholars and students an opportunity to understand more about the migrant workers producing China’s newfound wealth. Moreover, our training re-establishes the ties between the working class and academic knowledge that have been weakening for the past few decades.