How Western Union is using International Women's Day to further female education

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A film, a scholarship and new research fuel a global empowerment campaign for a company that caters overwhelmingly to women.

To commemorate International Women’s day, Western Union is raising awareness—and money— for female education around the world.

The centerpiece of the campaign is a video, created by McGarryBowen, that features five girls from different parts of the world racing to become the first female to lead the United Nations—no, the United States. Which girl will be the first female on the moon? No, screw the moon; one of them will be the first person—male or female—on Mars. Soon, their footsteps slow, and each girl finds herself at the entrance to her school. The message? Education is the key to any accomplishment.

The financial services company—now in its second year as an official brand partner of International Women’s Day—has also announced an expansion of its Education Is Better Initiative. A new scholarship fund, WU Scholars Program, will give recipients $2,500 scholarships for post-secondary education, with the goal to equip 50,000 women and young people with 21st century job skills by 2020. Launched in 2012, the initiative has so far paid more than $15 million in grants and formal donations aimed at education.

"Education is one of the most important investments we can make," Western Union President and CEO Hikmet Ersek said in a press release. "It turns girls into leaders. It turns global citizens into economic drivers, who then continue to invest in education. It breaks down barriers to education and empowers a bolder generation of young women to achieve their true potential."

The company, which is based in Meridian, Col., has also released original research showing the state of female education around the world. The survey, titled, "Unlocking Gender Equality & Education," found that more than two-thirds of women worldwide are not very optimistic about women achieving gender equality in the next five years.

Of 5,000 women in five countries, only 32 percent said they felt "very optimistic" about achieving gender equality for girls globally. Only 28 percent said they felt very optimistic about achieving gender equality for women globally.

But why aren’t girls reaching their full potential? Half of those surveyed cited "sexual reproductive issues" (teen pregnancies and lack of pro-choice options) as the No. 1 deterrent. These same issues, in conjunction with early marriages, were also cited as the top reason that girls dropped out of school. Other obstacles to an education include poverty, violence as well as a lack of qualified teachers, supplies and technology, according to the research.

For Western Union, a global company with a customer base that leans heavily female (more than half of those who sent money and more than 65 percent of those who received funds through its money transfer service last year were women), the issue holds obvious relevance.

"All of us–as business leaders, global citizens, and parents–have a long way to go to achieve gender equality," Ersek said. "Western Union believes that every girl, everywhere, should have the chance to pursue her dreams and goals."