Iron fist in a velvet glove, Chinese women on construction site


There is a saying in the man-dominated construction business, "Use man as if they were iron man, use woman as if they were man". These women construction workers follow their husbands around the country to make a living. According to a "Construction workers living condition away from home report" done by Little Bird Immigrant Worker’s Aid Hotline, woman construction workers have taken up 10.18% of the total construction site workforce. It’s not their wishes to become such an ‘Iron Women’ but for the sake of living, they have no other choice but become stronger and tougher.


Yang Yashan, 30 years old from Guangxi Province. Everyday she shuttles through the scaffoldings at the construction site even though the heavy lifting job is considered too dangerous for woman. She’s been doing this for a year now, before that she used to build houses with her husband in their hometown.


After a day’s work, Yang Yashan and her husband have dinner together and share one bottle of beer. Most of the female construction workers are working together with their husbands at the same site. Yang said, when she’s tired, a seep of beer can give her great relief.


The living condition is anything but decent. They live on the construction site sharing one room with 5-6 couples. Two boards, one mosquito net and a piece of cloth are all they have to create a bit of privacy for each couple.


Yang Yashan ran into her fellow villager Yang Amei and her husband. They were new to the construction site and didn’t bring much recreational stuffs with them. Husband’s mobile became their only source of entertainment.


32-year-old Yang Amei has one year scaffolding experience. She works equally hard as her husband carrying and installing steel rods. But because she’s a woman, she can only make 120 yuan (about 20 USD) per day while her husband can make 160 yuan (about 26 USD).


Xia Kaimei, 43 years old from Sichuan Province, has been working construction with her husband for 10 years. Her job is painting the interior wall. To make more hours, the couple usually get up at 4am to work until 7pm with only a short lunch break on the site.


Yang Fengqiong, 46 years old from Sichuan Province. Her job is to even out the concrete poured. As long as the pump is pumping, she has to stay working even though it is the hottest hours of the day. They always say, for a woman to work construction, she has to be able to endure hunger and fatigue.


Dormitories on construction site are usually prefabricated houses made of iron plates, which is steaming hot under the mid-day sun. Two women workers prefer to have their lunch break in the ventilated building rather than the dormitory.


Cai Xingtao, 24 years old from Guizhou Province, she came to work with her husband 3 months ago. She is a carpenter working 9 hours a day for 120 yuan. Cai said: "I used to work in a toy factory, if I don’t work overtime I made 2000 yuan, overtime I can make 3000 yuan. It’s not free in the factory, you are always expected to work even during the night. Now I can go out at night. And if there is anything at home, I can just leave."


Yuan Huomei, 26 years old from Hubei Province. She drives cement delivery truck from 6:30am to 7pm. Before, she worked in a shoe factory which she felt constrained and underpaid, so she came to her husband’s construction site for work as well.


Zhang Yan, 37 years old. She has been in the construction business 6 years doing exterior wall painting and tiling. 37 yuan per square meter, Zhang Yan and her husband can make over 10,000 yuan (about 1630 USD) per month. Thanks to their hard work, they can support their 2 kids for school in hometown and build a new house for their family.


Jiang Jinyan, 28 years old from Sichuan Province. She mixes cement mortar and render walling. Mud stained pants and sweat soaked shirts are her everyday scenarios. All 5 members of her family are working on the construction site. She said: "My dad bring me and my little brother up by working construction. Now we followed him and learn how to do things here, at the same time make some money to raise our 2 kids. A 1500 sqm floor we can finish in 5 days and make 10,000 yuan out of it."


Zhou Tingju, 50 years old working construction with her husband for 16 years. Together they can earn 500 yuan per day taking wall plastering project. Because of their job nature, they are constantly moving around the country for the next project, in the busiest year they moved 5 or 6 times. Their hard work has succeeded in supporting their daughter through university, now they are working to pay for a wedding house for her. Unfortunately, Zhou Tingju’s husband was diagnosed with ONFH, a common disease among construction workers. They need to go home to cure her husband first.


Ran Yeqin got married at 18 years old and has been working with her husband on the construction site ever since. Now she is 8 months pregnant while taking care of her one year old daughter. However being pregnant doesn’t give her any special care, instead, she is the one who has to rise earlier to prepare meals, do laundry and babysit everyday. Woman construction workers are not only workers, they have to also fulfill their traditional roles of wife and mother. There are much heavier load on their shoulders.


Gong Yuanfen, 50 years old from Sichuan Province. 3 generations of her family are living on the construction site. During the day, she plasters walls, after work she takes care of her one year old grandson.


Rainy day means relaxing day. They usually play mahjong in the dormitory. Living on the construction site one has to endure the lack of recreational activities. But they make the most out of what they have.


In earlier years, women on construction site are in supporting roles such as security, cleaning and cooking. Nowadays, more women join their men in doing the heavy lifting, physically demanding work even though they receive less for the same job as men. For them, working on construction gives them more money and freedom. When it comes to providing for their family, for making a better living, they don’t mind taking on extra weights.



(Translated from: Tencent)

  1. It takes 18 months here in the west to build a house in China it takes 5 months or less, that’s hard work the Chinese are doing not cheap work.

    We in the west say that is slave labor like we know what hard work is all about.

  2. Its a tough life for them. In Beijing I watch the men and woman workers working hard on the building sites daily but I don’t see the company providing proper health and safety equipment such as full scaffolding or safety nets. And not to often I see ambulances on site.

    I just wish their bosses could spend some time in the UK and learn some ideas of safety.

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