Once an ordinary villager in northwest China's Gansu Province, Zhou Zhixiu, 44, is now a successful entrepreneur, employing many other women from her home county.
In 2008, Zhou ran into a group of housemaids when she was visiting Lanzhou, capital of Gansu. Before that encounter, she had never imagined that people would employ others to do their cleaning, cooking and childcare for them.
"I had never known housekeeping was a thing people could be paid for. It was the kind of work I was good at, and suddenly, I could earn money!" she said.
Soon, she and some friends had signed up with an agency. After a couple of years, she felt she had learned enough about the business and saw an opportunity. Filled with confidence, in 2011 Zhou returned to her village to start her own business.
She has since introduced hundreds of impoverished women to employers near and far. Each of these women can earn up to 5,000 yuan (720 U.S. dollars) a month.
Living in villages, Chinese women like Zhou once had little chance to make their own way in the world. As they celebrate International Working Women's Day this year, women in China are more free than ever to seek work and careers, thanks to the growing prosperity of society at large and government policies designed to empower women.
OPENING UP OPPORTUNITIES
Two years ago, Zhou's company became eligible for free employee training from the Women's Federation of Gansu, which last year also provided financing to help the company expand.
Protection of women's interests is an important part of China's poverty relief efforts and government support is helping women from rural areas start businesses or seek jobs. Over two million women from rural central and western areas have received some kind of training since 2012. Small loans are more easily obtainable for women. These measures address two of the principal problems faced by rural women: low levels of education and an inability to access resources.
Improved opportunities for women in the countryside come from the fact that Chinese women in general are better educated today than ever before.
Moreover, females made up 52.4 percent of the whole college population in 2015, and 49.7 percent of all post-graduate students.
A government report released last November showed improving ratios of women among civil servants, national legislators, political advisors and business managers.
"Females should participate in all aspects of governance," said Tsinghua University's Qiao Fengjie in an interview with China Women's News.
PROBLEMS STILL FACING WORKING WOMEN
There is no doubt that things have improved greatly for Chinese women, but much remains to be done, in particular in dealing with discrimination in the workplace.
In a survey of 55,000 working women released on Monday by recruiters "Zhaopin.com," over 80 percent of respondents said they had encountered gender discrimination in their work, or in their search for a job.
Discrimination comes in a variety of guises. Some employers flatly refuse to even look at resumes from women. Some require female job seekers to hold better qualifications than men. Some simply say "men only" in their recruitment material.
Several laws, including the Labor Law and Employment Promotion Law, include content about gender discrimination, but a law which specifically addresses such discrimination is needed, according Liu Minghui of China Women's University.
At a press conference on Saturday, Fu Ying, spokesperson for the National People's Congress annual session, called for better protection of women's right to be employed.
The chance to work is important for a woman both in realizing her personal worth and in her family life, Fu said.