Young Correspondents

‘Empowering women is the best way to get everyone empowered’

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As the world honours the contributions of women on 8 March, Leigh-Ann Worrell, 24, a young Commonwealth Correspondent from Barbados studying in Beijing, interviews the founder of a Chinese NGO devoted to improving the skills of females in rural areas.


As we celebrate International Women’s Day this month, I share with you the grassroots work of one of the most remarkable women I have met while living in Beijing: Wu Qing.

One of the ‘sent-down youths’ of the Cultural Revolution era (urban Chinese sent to do manual labour in the rural areas to ‘correct their behaviour’) she used her past as a hard worker to personify this year’s Women’s Day theme: ‘Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures.’

English teacher, female activist and speaker are some of the many titles that she has proudly carried throughout her lifetime.

Wu was a founding member of Changping Practical Skills Training Centre for Rural Women in 1998. We share a chat about its roots, aims and the challenges of running a non-governmental organisation in the People’s Republic of China.

Leigh-Ann: What is the Changping Practical Skills Training Centre?

Wu: It is a non-profit, non-degree centre. We empower women first to let them know they are human first and then women. We are also train them to be global citizens with love and care.

Leigh-Ann: Where did the idea for the Changping Practical Skills Training come from?

Wu: Well, it all started rural magazine, which we used as a vehicle for a literacy project in 1996, in the Hubei and Hebei provinces. Later, we started a female migration club that year, offering legal training about rights and protection from sexual harassment, rape, reading contracts as well as offering practical skills training so that the women could find employment.

Some of the women who were in the club were not employed, and we would offer training on courting, marriage and divorce. So the Centre came out of that. We started to recruit women in 1999, and started a programme for high-school drop-outs in 2000. So far, we have trained 11 650 rural women and girls.

Leigh-Ann: What are some of the skills you teach at the Centre?

Wu: For 16 to 20 year-olds, we used to offer sewing, but because of the global sector, there was not that much of a need, and we decided to offer a three-month computer training course. We also offer daycare management, hairdressing and computer short-hand.

We also have a Start Your Business programme and a community-building initiative in Sichuan, providing training for village-level and medical workers in areas like psychological intervention training for mothers who lost their children.

Leigh-Ann: How has running a NGO been impacted by the global downturn?

Wu: Because of the financial crisis, international funding has been shrinking. A lot of [overseas] organisations do not think of China as Third World. However, Chinese entrepreneurs have started to donate, and that is a good sign. I encourage them to see for themselves the work we are doing. Seeing is believing and they are moved to start donating. The local government also assists. But what funding depends on is people knowing about us.

Leigh-Ann: What are some of the specific challenges of running an NGO in China?

Wu: NGO trust. Building trust with whoever donates and the amount is on the website… We also label the items that people and embassies donate. We want people to come and be able to do oversight.

Leigh-Ann: Finally, why do you think programmes like these are important?

Wu: Women give life. They are the first teachers and, if they are empowered, so will children. Empowering women is the cheapest and best way to get everyone empowered.

Photo credit: Marianna / cc


About me:

“I am a reporter for I am passionate about women’s rights issues, theatre arts and cats. I like hanging out with my friends, live for the beach and (sorta) enjoy cooking. I eventually to work in the gender and development field in any part of the world.”

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