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Gendered caregiving and structural constraints: An empirical ethical study

Background: The pressing issue of aged care has made gendered caregiving a growing subject of feminist bioethical enquiry. However, the impact of feminism on empirical studies in the area of gendered care in Chinese sociocultural contexts has been less influential. Objectives: To examine female members’ lived experiences of gendered care in rural China and offer proper normative evaluation based on their experiences. Research design: This article adopted an empirical ethical approach that integrates ethnographical investigation and feminist ethical inquiry. This article focused on three cases of gendered caregiving for sick older members collected from a 6-month fieldwork conducted in a primary hospital in rural China.  Approval was obtained from the university ethics committee. Findings: The empirical work highlights caregivers’ voices of weiqu (a sense of unfairness) resulting from their constrained choice when being pressured to engage in caregiving, which is associated with a disadvantageous socio-institutional and structural backdrop in current rural China. Informed by the conception of structural injustice, the normative analysis of this article traced various forms of social norms, structural deficiencies and ageing welfare institutions, as they intertwine and transmit into additional care deficiencies against rural families and their female caregivers. Conclusion: This article identified the constraint of gender hierarchy and its intersection with external social structure that exacerbate gendered oppression and exploitation of female labour in rural China. Normatively, this article argues that the current configuration of rural family care, featured by structural impediments and exploration of female labour, is unjust. Some policy recommendations are proposed to empower caregivers and advance care for rural older people.

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Journal article
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Nursing Ethics
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