Improving women’s livelihoods in Yunnan Province

The Yunnan Integrated Road Network Development Project (YIRNDP) was set up to improve the transport infrastructure of the remote Yunnan province in southwest China, and received strong backing from the Asian Development Bank. YIRNDP's rural component focused on employing women from local villages to maintain the roads. The project encouraged social and ethnic inclusion, as well as helping to raise incomes throughout the region and facilitate greater economic activity.

The challenge

Yunnan Province is situated in the far southwest of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and has borders with Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. Because of its relative poverty and remoteness, it had a particular problem with its transport infrastructure. "It is one of the poorest provinces, with a per capita gross domestic product that was only 52% of the national average in 2009, and a poverty incidence that is nearly four times the national average. In 2009, Yunnan Province had a total road network of more than 206,028 kilometres (km), consisting of roughly 27,954 km of national and provincial roads, and 178,074 km of rural roads." [1]

The provincial prefecture and the county communications bureaus are responsible for the upkeep of these rural roads. "Although periodic and emergency maintenance are usually contracted out, routine maintenance is typically undertaken only 2–3 days a year using voluntary labour contributions from nearby communities. These contributions tend to be insufficient in quantity and quality, and do not provide a timely response to the deterioration process, leaving the road unprotected for the remainder of the year." [2]

The inevitable result of this level of maintenance is that the roads are inadequate, with 85 percent of them being unpaved. "This is exacerbated by the fact that most rural roads in Yunnan Province are ... located in mountainous terrain, and subject to high rainfall. These poor road conditions mean that transport costs remain high and deter public transport operators from providing services. Also, during the rainy period, landslides commonly block the roads and are only cleared after the rainy season, leaving many communities without access for months at a time." [3]

With poor roads, the communities in these rural areas have difficulties in accessing goods and services and in transporting their own products to market. "This severely limits their ability to improve their livelihoods and contributes to the high levels of poverty." [4]

These greater levels of poverty have led in turn to emigration to urban areas and depopulation of the countryside. "Apart from agriculture, very few other income-earning opportunities exist in the rural areas. Many men, therefore, migrate to the cities in search of work during the agricultural off-season, although they are not able to send much money back to the household. For women, income-earning opportunities are virtually non-existent. Women cannot easily work outside their community due to their other responsibilities, including taking care of the children, livestock, agricultural land, and the household. They are, therefore, very restricted in the type of work they can access." [5]

The initiative

Given the social consequences of the inadequate transport infrastructure in rural Yunnan, "a rural road component was incorporated in the YIRNDP".[6] The YIRNDP was funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and had the following goals:

  • "To develop and demonstrate a suitable system for the routine maintenance of rural roads, thus ensuring improved road conditions, lower transport costs, and more continuous access to townships and villages in the province."
  • "To generate employment opportunities for women and ethnic minority groups in rural areas, allowing them to earn a steady income and improve their livelihoods."
  • "To generate direct income [and] to enhance the options open to women for improving their livelihoods, enabling them to use their incomes more effectively."
  • "To make use of the investments in road maintenance to create employment opportunities for rural women, especially those from ethnic minority groups." [7]

The people involved in the project - principally, maintenance workers and other community members - were provided with training "in various economic and productive activities". [8]
There was a focus on establishing pilot projects, for example:

  • "During preparation of the rural road component of the YIRNDP, the pilot project on community-based rural road maintenance by ethnic minority women’s groups in Western Yunnan Province was formulated."
  • "A pilot project on community-based rural road maintenance by ethnic minority women’s groups was carried out in the two counties of Luxi and Lianghe in Dehong Dai and Jingpo Ethnic Autonomous Prefecture (Dehong Prefecture)." [9]

The public impact

The rural roads component of YIRNDP led to significant improvements in the roads, and a strong relationship also developed between the road workers and the villagers. "Repairs to the road surface and shoulder further improved road conditions... On certain roads, traffic increased as road conditions improved, and in many cases, villagers and road users expressed their gratitude by providing free transport to the maintenance workers... Access also became more continuous as a result of the maintenance work, which removed landslides within a few days instead of at the end of the rainy season. Many villagers also phoned the maintenance groups and requested assistance whenever they could not pass, relying on their ability to keep the roads open." [10]

There was also a positive impact on the lives of the women in the villages. "After the maintenance, women would have more opportunities to communicate with the outside world and participate in all kinds of social activities. They can visit their friends and relatives, go shopping and sell farm produces. Their participation in community management, training, education study opportunities would improve their knowledge so as to raise their economic and social status in the house and society to realise the equality of men and women."[11]

There were increased employment opportunities for women as a result of YIRNDP. "The subproject also provided indirect benefits for local women. The construction increased non-agricultural job opportunities in the short term, among which 30% has been provided to local women and those on low incomes."  [12]
The statistics demonstrated that the new job opportunities made a major difference: "the employment for women increased on a monthly basis from 340 to 575." [13]

What did and didn't work

All cases in our Public Impact Observatory have been evaluated for performance against the elements of our Public Impact Fundamentals.

Legitimacy

Public Confidence Strong

There was a very supportive attitude among the rural community members towards the YIRNDP, as was evident from the free transport given to the maintenance workers (see Public Impact above) while the local authorities and village leaders were impressed by its the positive impact: "the resulting improvement in road conditions is seen by local authorities, village leaders, and community members as a very visible achievement of the project."[19]

A villager from Luxi County gave an example of its beneficial impact. "Before the project, the road was impassable for much of the rainy season, and we would have to walk long hours to the market with our produce the day before. This year, the road remained open and we could go by motorcycle in the morning."[20] Another villager from Luxi County indicated the favourable impression made by the women road workers: "at first I thought the work would be too difficult for the women but, where men would already have given up, they continued and managed to really improve the road."[21]

Stakeholder Engagement Good

YIRNDP was funded by the ADB, both in the the rural road component and the pilot project. "This USD1.5 million rural road component, which was approved by the Board of Directors of the ADB in December 2010, is supporting the implementation of an improved routine maintenance system, covering at least 650 km of rural roads for the duration of the project."[14] The ADB was the major external stakeholder.

The ADB's Gender and Development Cooperation Fund invested USD200,000 in the pilot, Community-Based Rural Road Maintenance by Women Ethnic Minority Groups, in Western Yunnan. "It was complemented by counterpart funding from the Dehong Prefecture Communications Bureau and the communications bureaus of Luxi and Lianghe counties where the pilot project was implemented. This counterpart funding was targeted primarily at the daily management and supervision of the pilot project."[15]

The main internal stakeholders were the relevant Yunnan province administrations, the rural inhabitants and the women who worked on the project. "The maintenance groups are made up of women living near the road to be maintained. One woman working on a part-time basis is required for every 1–2 km. Information about these employment opportunities is disseminated through village leaders and women’s groups. A selection is made from interested candidates, giving preference to women from poor households and ethnic minority groups. The selected group members are registered with the county communications bureau, allowing them to enter into a contract for routine road maintenance." [16]

Political Commitment Fair

The project had reasonable support from the provincial administration, principally through the Yunnan Highway Administration Bureau (YHAB). "The road maintenance project conducted by YHAB is 605.54 km long. There are 7 contracts containing 197.2 km road maintenance, which is financed by ADB with USD20 million together with [its] government counterpart." [17]

Also, the Dehong Prefecture Women’s Federation, which comprised 59 participants from the prefecture and the county governments, supported the pilot project initiative: "capacity-building training ... was carried out in partnership with the Dehong Prefecture Women’s Federation and involved 59 participants from prefecture and county governments and a further 141 women’s representatives and leaders of income-generating programmes." [18]

Policy

Clear Objectives Good

The objectives set for the project were clear, although not measurable. They had two broad objectives: to maintain the rural roads more effectively (and hence improve transport infrastructure) and to provide employment for local women. "The project aimed to develop and demonstrate a suitable system for the routine maintenance of rural roads, thus ensuring improved road conditions, lower transport costs, and more continuous access to townships and villages in the province. At the same time, the project aimed to generate employment opportunities for women and ethnic minority groups in rural areas, allowing them to earn a steady income and improve their livelihoods."[22]

Evidence Good

The pilot project was undertaken in line with the objectives, initially covered 165 km of roads, and provided evidence for the wider goals of the YIRNDP. "The first phase of the Dehong pilot project was launched in March 2010 and ran through March of the following year, encompassing 165 km of roads - 113 km in Mangshi City, and 52 km in Lianghe County. Since then, the scope of the rural roads project has been expanded to include 650 km in the same areas." [23]

The pilot indicated that the approach taken could work well in a wider sphere. "The pilot project covered 165 km of unpaved township and village roads ... In line with the main objective of the pilot project, road conditions were found to have improved significantly compared to the situation before the project, indicating that the maintenance groups were not only capable of slowing down the deterioration process, but also of reversing it." [24]

There was an ongoing review of existing progress to assess the evidence for moving on to subsequent phases of the project. "As part of the YIRNDP, policy dialogue for rural road maintenance was conducted; and existing sources and options for increasing funding allocations to routine maintenance were identified. The provincial and prefecture authorities agreed to prioritise the allocation of existing funding to routine maintenance." [25]

Feasibility Strong

The rural component of YIRNDP was launched at a small scale through a pilot project, and the scope was gradually increased. Furthermore, grants were given and a proper structure of how the salaries and cost would be distributed among the members were in place. The human capital was also evaluated clearly, with a proper plan in place if the workload were to increase. "The first phase of the Dehong pilot project was launched in March 2010 and ran through March of the following year, encompassing 165 km of roads - 113 km in Mangshi City, and 52 km in Lianghe County. Since then, the scope of the rural roads project has been expanded to include 650 km in the same areas." [26]

The financial feasibility was guaranteed by the ADB funding and by financial support from the provincial and local governments."As part of the YIRNDP, policy dialogue for rural road maintenance was conducted; existing sources and options for increasing funding allocations to routine maintenance were identified. The provincial and prefecture authorities agreed to prioritise the allocation of existing funding to routine maintenance."[27]

The objective of providing employment to local women was both desirable and logistically feasible. "This was one of the few employment opportunities open to rural women, who are generally able to earn only a few hundred yuan per year doing agricultural work. The fact that the maintenance work is near to their homes and allows flexible working hours makes it very easy for them to combine the work with their other responsibilities."[28]

The pilot project had demonstrated the women's ability to do the work. "The pilot project has shown that women are very capable of carrying out road maintenance work [and has] ensured safety at work and enhanced both individual and women’s groups capacities through the training conducted on rural road maintenance and other non-farm activities."[29]

Action

Management Good

YHAB monitored and managed the overall project and divided it into various components. "YHAB planned to conduct maintenance over 605.54 km highway, which would take 4 years’ time. The project was started in 2012. It was divided into 2 parts: the 1st part is 408.34 km, which would be solely financed by domestic counterpart funds. The 2nd is 197.2 km road maintenance with a USD20 million loan from ADB together with government counterpart on 7 contracts." [30]

The target town is also divided into representative groups, and is comprised of one female representative from each. "The town has 10 village committees, 77 villages, and 80 women-representative groups; on averagely there is a women-representative group and one female village head leader in each of the villages to work on the protection of women’s rights and social welfare as well as providing help for women in poverty." [31]

Women are hired on part-time basis and they are given proper managerial training. "The maintenance groups are made up of women living near the road to be maintained. One woman working on a part-time basis is required for every 1–2 km... The group members subsequently receive basic technical and managerial training. The technical aspect looks at different causes of road deterioration and the need for routine maintenance; this is followed by practical training on the different maintenance activities and their proper implementation. The managerial aspect looks primarily at the system of work plans; inspections; and group management, including basic accounting." [32]

Measurement Good

There is a system in place to measure the cost, its impact and also if everything is within the budget. This is done by ensuring a proper plan, which is made at the start of the work. "The remuneration of the maintenance group depends on the amount of work completed, using unit rates for the different activities. At the beginning of the month, a work plan is prepared, indicating the work to be carried out and, at the end of the month, the work is inspected and payment is made for the work that has been completed."[33]

Additionally, YHAB monitored the Gender Action Plan to measure the project and publish its findings in an annual report and to the public. "As the Implementing Agency of the subproject, YHAB implemented and monitored the Gender Action Plan (GAP). During the project execution process, YHAB has guaranteed that... the GAP has been implemented and monitored, and annual report has been submitted to ADB."[34]

Alignment Strong

The rural roads component of YIRNDP was clearly aligned with the objectives of the ADB, particularly between the structure of the pilot project and the ADB's Gender and Development Cooperation Fund and in meeting the goal of social and ethnic inclusion. "Under the pilot project, 163 women were contracted through 21 maintenance groups. Ninety-two percent were from households below the official poverty line and 55% were from ethnic minority groups (21 De’ang, 21 Lisu, 18 Dai, 12 Jingpo, and 18 A’chang women). During the project, approximately 18,000 workdays of employment were created, averaging 110 workdays per group member." [35] There was also a strong and cooperative relationship between the women selected to carry out the maintenance work on the roads and the overall rural community and a good working relationship between the contractors and their employees.