The Voice of Chinese Women — How Do NGOs in China Use Communication as a Strategy to Promote Women Empowerment

By Xinyi Xue

Back in the 1940s in the western world, the inspirational image of “Rosie the Riveter” became the representation of women in the workforce. The big headline on the top of this image, “We Can Do It!”, conveying that women can be as powerful as men. This widespread image encouraged American women of all ages, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds to go to work during the time of World War II. Furthermore, this image became a successful use of visual communication since it breaks the misinterpretations people hold for women.

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Rosie the Riveter

Later, in the National Women’s Conferences in 1977, which is an important event that contributed to the changing role of women in American society. By using public speaking as their communication strategy, participants addressed the difficulties and challenges women were facing and proposed solutions to these problems. This was the first time a large group of women standing in front of the public and addressing their problems. It was a very successful event since more people get to know these issues through media such as newspapers and televisions.

Over the decades, by continuing to fight for their rights and breaking gender stereotypes, the role of women in the western world has a drastic change and the idea of feminism is well promoted. Meanwhile, in the eastern countries, women empowerment has not gotten that much attention and support, but there are still some people who are aware of these issues and difficulties that women are undergoing.

How could the women empowerment advocation change in the eastern world? In some Asian countries, people started to notice the importance of women empowerment as more issues of gender inequality happen.

One Japanese journalist, Shiori Ito, standing out and sharing her own thoughts about women empowerment after she experienced sexual violence. By using media as her powerful strategy, Ito is working on documentaries and reports that are connected to the struggle of women.

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Shiori Ito

In one Ito’s public speech, she mentioned that the media are more male-dominated in Japan; therefore, sometimes Ito, as a female reporter, faced many challenges in her career. However, Ito still hopes that communication and media could be the ways to change the current situation around the world since “[She believes] in telling stories. [And she believes] in truth”. Recently, she made a video regarding the concept of consent, she explains “Only yes means yes, no means no” in this 5-minute video. Surprisingly, the video has a huge influence in social media in China, people are sharing their thoughts about women empowerment in the comments.

In recent years, more and more people in the eastern world notice and aware the gender issues, such as sexual violence, limited social support system, and also people’s minds.

 In China, there are also numerous non-government organizations (NGOs) standing out and trying to change the role of women in Chinese society. These NGOs as follows focus on different aspects of the struggle of women, and they are using different media and strategies to promote women empowerment and to help out women who need support.

Lean In China

Lean In China, one well-known a platform for women’s career and self-development.  Since using communication and social media as its strategies to promote the gender equality, a number of urban women have been attracted.

Lean In China was established in 2016 in Beijing, China; its core ideas include mentorship, leadership, and sistership of women. Lean In China is a platform for women’s career and self-development, aiming to inspire Chinese women to pursue their goals and ideals from breaking women’s general stereotypes in career. It established more than 50 communities which are called “Lean In Circle” in 20 different cities in China.

“Lean In Circle” is a great way for women to share out their thoughts about any topics, mainly education or exploration. During the circle shares, members will learn a new skill through different media platforms, such as listening to a short lecture or watching video clips. Lean In China is not only an organization that helps women to solve their life problems; more than that, it can be a great platform for Chinese women to improve themselves by making reflections as they reach towards their goals.

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Lean In China also has a platform for Chinese female students, which is called Lean In College. Lean In College is aimed to encourage high school and college students to pursue their goals and ideals, and also develop their abilities of leadership. In the social media of Lean In College, it publishes articles about the members who are working in Lean In communities and their own experiences and stories. Moreover, Lean In College’s social media also offers various great opportunities for students, such as volunteer or internship. In its social media, there is an article named Girls’ Talk, it includes some debated topics, such as sex education for children and teenagers, and the topic of body shame. Lean In College also offers the chances for people to join their live lesson and learn these knowledge. Lean In uses social media as a very helpful way to help all ages and groups of women in China. Unlike many other NGOs, Lean In China is a place for women to inspire and improve themselves.

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In this case, we konw that since most of Lean In China’s participants are educated white-collar workers in urban regions. The encouragement and support among the female peers contribute a lot to the solution of their career dilemma, thus circle shares would be a great way for them to discuss their problems and make reflections.  In addition, highly educated urban women are also adept at using media resources to increase their exposure, so social media becomes a major means of communication to make their voice be heard.

Grameen China

Grameen Bank, a financial organization and community development bank, was founded in Bangladesh in 1983; it is aimed to help low-income women in rural areas by providing them microcredit and financial services. By 2017, Grameen Bank already has 9 million borrowers and 97% of its borrowers are women, the repayment rate is about 99.6%. Grameen Bank has more than 2,600 branches in 41 countries worldwide, and it is still considering expanding into developed countries in the world.

The founder of Grameen Bank, Professor Mohammed Yunus, established Grameen China in Lukou Village, Xuzhou in 2014, it is Grameen Bank’s first program site in China.

 “Grameen means village. Lukou is a village, and as a village, it’s a perfect place for Grameen China”, Professor Rahamn, who worked for Grameen Bank for over thirty years, explains why Grameen Bank chose Lukou Village as their first program site in China. During this time in Lukou Village, villagers were facing several issues regarding their living condition, including the problems of sanitation, education, and poor economics activities. After Grammen’s microcredit program, villagers’ living quality is getting better and some villagers start work of cultivation, that “[they] produce agricultural product, like vegetables, wheat, soybeans, nut, poultry farm, goat rearing” By now, Grameen Bank already has 11 program sites and more than 2,000 borrowers in China, and it is still considering expansion in China.

According to the statistics from the Chinese Women Research Society, more than 20 million people in China are in poverty, 60% of them are female; and in both urban and rural areas, the statistic value shows that the income of females is less than the income of males in general. As an organization that aims to help low-income women in rural areas, Grameen China has been working on its microcredit program in China. Grameen Bank believes that even among the women who live in the rural areas, many still have the dreams of starting a small business; hence this microcredit program can be an excellent opportunity for them to pursue their dreams, or even change their lives and get rid of poverty. This microcredit program is especially efficient to this group of women since the processes are straightforward and convenient, the interest rate is low, and the program does not require house mortgages or social security.

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In Grameen China’s microcredit program, participants will first join the five people group and learn the knowledge about loans, savings, credit buildings, and other financial information. [i]“Professor Yunus discovered the formation of a group, five members make a group, one will be group chairman, one group secretary, other three members. The group request approved the loans for each other members without collaterals”, mentioned by Professor Rahamn, the process of group formation is important since the participant would be more morally responsible for the loans. Furthermore, the group also offers a sense of protection since “[Individual] tends to be erratic, uncertain in his behavior, but group membership creates group support and group pressure and makes the borrower more reliable”. Professor Rahamn believes that saving plays a key role in Grameen’s system, hence it is important and necessary for women to learn financial knowledge before they start the program. After training, Grameen China will provide each participant about 20,000 RMB as loan, so that women can start their business. [ii]Moreover, Grameen China will offer meetings in each community once a week; in the meetings, participants can repay the money, learn more knowledge about owning a business, and share their thoughts about their family lives or children’s education. Through this program, women not only get a chance to start their business, they can also know a couple of people and share their thoughts and resources they got.

Grameen China uses various communication strategies to promote its microcredit program, including new media, short video clips or films, lectures, and activities. Grameen China owns several social media platforms now, such as Wechat official account, Weibo, Facebook, and Twitter. In these social media, Grameen China posts detailed information regarding its programs, stories about the women who received the help from Grameen China, and the records of Grameen China’s lectures and activities. Despite these social media platforms, one probationary officer who worked for Grameen Bank for over thirty years, Professor Md. Muslemur Rahamn, believes that the most important communication way is to visit their main target group door to door. Professor Rahamn explains that “The important thing is you have to physically meet with the poor people…because poor people always keep themselves away from the (organizational) bank loan”.

For Grameen China’s visual artifacts, it has also made short video clips as a part of its communication plan. Taking two videos made by Grameen as examples, both of them clearly explain Grameen’s methodology and the process of Grameen’s program. In the 2 minutes video clip, it explains how this microcredit program started in 2018. Moreover, there is also an interview part in this short video, which interviews four participants of the microcredit program. These four women share their own stories of their businesses and talk about how Grameen China has helped them and changed their lives. The other video is a promotional video created by Grameen China, this 7-minute video named “A Birthday Wish” is adapted from a true story. This short video clip is heartwarming, and it also describes the whole process of the microcredit program.

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By helping and supporting low-income women in rural areas, Grameen China has also contributed to women empowerment in China. This organization changes lots of women’s lives and their thinking by offering them a chance to pursue and start their dreams of owning a business. And in this case, we know that Grameen China believes that the best way to achieve this goal and communicate with their targeting group is physically meeting because it can successfully build the trust between the participants and Grammen. 

XX XY Garden

XX XY Garden — an organization that focuses on the issue of children protection — also has involvement in women empowerment in China. XX XY Garden was founded in 2014 in Beijing, China; its goal is to advocate sex education in schools and families for migrant children. Starting from 2014, XX XY Garden has already offered sex education courses in about 20 elementary schools for migrant children in Beijing, China.

In May 2019, Xixi Garden held an activity for female students in migrant schools in Beijing, China. The girls who participated in this activity received knowledge about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics); moreover, they finished their projects about STEM even though they did not have prior knowledge about the topics of electricity and mechanism.

Through the use of communication strategies, XX XY Garden has also promoted its core ideas and projects successfully. The main social media platform XX XY Garden uses is its Wechat official account. In this platform, Xixi Garden posts important messages including the details and reflections of its projects, volunteer opportunities, and donation information. Furthermore, XXXYGarden also recommends movies and pictures books relating to sex education in this official account.

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Sex Education Picture Book Used by XX XY Garden

XX XY Garden, utilizing picture books as one of its communication strategies. This way would be extremely helpful for XXXY Garden since their targeting group is female children; therefore, publishing picture books would evoke children’s attention on the topic of sex education. This reveals that NGOs would first analyze the characteristics of the women that they are going to help, then utilize the best and the most appropriate communication strategies to reach out to their targeting groups.

This article summarizes the main methods mentioned above as follows.

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From this table, it can be seen that social media such as Wechat plays a key element in NGOs’ communication strategies. All three NGOs utilize at least one social media platform and post articles and information on a regular basis. Wechat official accounts are used by all three organizations since Wechat is one of the most widely used media platforms in China. By using communication and media as their tools, NGOs in China are able to explain their helpful programs to more people and spread the concept of women empowerment in a wilder application.

However, at the same time, we are not supposed to ignore locality and aboriginality especially when studying the issue of women’s empowerment in China. For example, Grameen Bank found that the promotion effect of social media is not as good as the one-to-one visit of loan officers in Chinese villages, because there is a special credibility mechanism among acquaintance society in rural China. NGOs utilize their best communication strategies to communicate with their targeting groups and advocate their goals and ideals.

In conclusion, when talking about women’s empowerment, we should pay more attention to the classification of women, rather than regard them as a whole. From these three cases, it can be seen that urban and rural, young and old are actually different indicators, representing different communication target groups. What NGOs do is adopting diverse communication methods to respond to various female tension.

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