How the Western Union Foundation is Helping to Empower Women in China

Empowering women and girls is a hot funding area these days, but we rarely hear about grantmaking focused on China, where a fifth of the world's female population lives. So we're intrigued by how the Western Union Foundation is backing work by Mercy Corps and the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA) to provide women in China with leadership skills training and financial literacy.

China may now be the world’s second largest economy, with booming cities and scores of billionaires, but it remains a country with widespread and grinding poverty. Among the poorest Chinese are female villagers. There are many reasons as to why women in China fare worse financially then men, a major one being that societal norms often dictate that women work in agricultural and domestic fields rather than pursue an education. This contributes to high illiteracy rates among Chinese women and exacerbates their oppression, especially in rural areas.

What’s more, Chinese women are often the primary caregivers and financial supports of the elderly members of their families. In the meantime, the men of these rural villages are migrating to urban areas to earn an income.

However, as men send a portion of their earnings back to their families, studies show that women who remain behind in the villages are saving and reinvesting that money in their education, nutrition, and skills training. A range of other efforts are also afoot in China to empower women and address gender inequities.

Mercy Corps currently works in over 40 countries around the world. And while it's best known as a disaster relieft outfit, it's actually deep into women's empowerment, which it recognizes as a key to tackling poverty and oppression. Mercy Corps also is involved in microfinance around the world, partnering with banks and other institutions to lend to fledging entrepreneurs, many of whom are women.

CFPA is Mercy Corps's microfinance partner in China, and has a 25-year history of working to alleviate poverty through programs that are designed to help improve productivity, healthcare, and overall living standards for impoverished populations. CFPA's microfinance work has long placed a lot of focus on financially empowering women.

The Western Union Foundation grant for $125,000 that will allow Mercy Corps and CFPA to continue their work comes out of its signature program, Education for Better, which focuses on improving secondary, vocational and life skills training. The overarching goal of the program is to provide individuals and families increased economic opportunities through education and skills training, which will hopefully, help them improve their financial well-being. 

Since 2012, the Education for Better program has awarded over $9 million in in grants toward improving secondary education and vocational programs in nearly 50 countries around the world.