Goddesses and Strong Women

My presentation at the Business & Professional Women Forum (April 2011, Jeju Island):


WEP and Cultural Context: Goddesses and Strong Women

~ Anne Hilty, PhD



Thank you, each of you, for allowing me to speak to you today. It is my honor to do so.


I’d like to talk to you about WEP within the context of culture.


Women’s Empowerment Principles have been co-created by UN Development Fund for Women in collaboration with UN Global Impact, for the purpose of gaining economic equality for women across the globe.


BPW International’s primary function is to “foster economic sustainability for women on a global scale, while nurturing their professional goals.”


These 7 empowerment principles, while designed to be globally applicable, cannot simply be applied as is to each cultural setting, however. It’s imperative that they be made as culturally relevant as possible in order to achieve maximum success in outcome.


The principles can serve as goals. The objectives – the steps taken to achieve each of these goals – can and must differ from one locale to the next.


Thus, as a so-called “western woman” living in Asia, as a professional with a keen interest in culture and how it affects the individual and societal psyche, I would ask each of you: when contemplating how best to achieve these very worthy goals in your region, how can you work within your own cultural matrix in order to effect change?




Jeju women have a very longstanding reputation of strength. “The Strong Jeju Woman” is legendary. Feminists in Korea’s mainland point to Jeju’s women as an example of indigenous feminism. Words like “matriarchy” and “amazonian” get used frequently.


On Jeju, scholars, feminists, and professional women also question this identification. It’s surely true that the women of this island – and, in all likelihood, the women of Taiwan, of Japan, and of many island cultures that have known hardship – share qualities of diligence, fortitude, and courage.


It’s also true that, within Jeju’s most well-known female-oriented profession found in the diving women, highly structured economic cooperatives have long existed. In village life, collaborative labor practices in general have always been the norm, as villagers needed to work together to overcome adverse conditions.


The valid point is also made that women within Korean society, and certainly in Jeju, wield a great deal of power in matters of the household.


However, outside of these economic organizations for occupations of manual labor, Jeju’s women have not yet attained substantial positions of leadership. There are few if any female heads of corporations or high-level managers. Women are not at the helm of local village councils. And no woman has ever been elected to public office, though local legislation now includes the appointment of five women to the Provincial Council.


Jeju women’s pay-scale in comparison with that of men is notoriously low, while rates for domestic and sexual violence, including prostitution, are high.


And so: even for such strong women, there is still a great deal of progress to be made before it can be said that any measure of true equality and economic sustainability has been achieved.


And the daughters, the next generation of Jeju women? As the element of hardship and adversity decreases in this increasingly affluent and modernized, technologically driven society, mothers express concern that their daughters want easy lives and lack the strength of their forebears.




There are some dominant themes in Jeju’s society which must be considered in order to achieve true empowerment for Jeju’s women: the more recent overlay of Confucian social structure versus a much older inheritance of Goddess mythology, coupled with communal labor methods and an egalitarian, matrifocal traditional culture.


Jeju Island’s creation myth is that of a giant goddess, the grandmother of all, Seolmundae Halmang. Numerous other goddesses can be found in the mythology of Jeju’s traditional culture, indicating the true underpinnings of the Jeju woman’s strength.


It has been said, for some time now, that Seolmundae sleeps.


In the Neo-Confucianism that took stronghold in Korea several centuries ago and on Jeju more recently, the woman is relegated to a secondary role in the society, her place “in the home.”


The hierarchy of Confucian social structure also carries over into the workplace, which keeps working women at an artificially lower status. Several women in mainland Korea have advanced to high corporate positions, to which much recent press coverage has been given – but in every case it is directly related to family ties.


In Korea, corporations and government are typically modeled after the military system to which all young men are conscripted and of which women for the most part have no knowledge – a distinct disadvantage for women in the workplace.


As we stand witness to the anniversary date tomorrow of a 1948 wide-scale massacre from which Jeju’s people are still recovering, we are also aware of Jeju’s powerful commitment to peace and human rights initiatives.


These conflicting notions, in conjunction with cooperative economic traditions, provide several considerations by which to approach the empowerment of Jeju’s women.




And so, the 7 Women’s Empowerment Principles can be addressed within the context of Jeju’s indigenous culture:


  1. Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality”: traditionally matrifocal and egalitarian cultural principles;
  2. Treat all women and men fairly at work; respect and support human rights and nondiscrimination”: traditional communal labor practices; current peace and human rights initiatives;
  3. Ensure the health, safety, and well-being of all women and men workers”: also, as above;
  4. Promote education, training and professional development for women”: in keeping with Confucian value placed on lifelong education;
  5. Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women”: the diving women’s economic cooperatives and decision-making processes in a structure known as ‘bulteok’;
  6. Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy”: island-wide system of small villages with local councils; numerous NGOs; strong community bonds known as ‘kwendang’;
  7. Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality”: numerous research institutes [NGOs, private and public] and government initiatives


Each principle can be supported by an existing or traditional feature of Jeju’s culture, if highlighted and enhanced for this purpose. This also reframes features of Jeju’s traditional culture in modern terms, which may serve the purpose of cultural preservation and encourage an increased valuing of traditional ways.




The 21st century has been referred to as “the Asian Century” and also as “the Women’s Century.” I would propose that this, then, in particular is the “Asian Women’s century” – wouldn’t you?


And so, in addressing the need for empowerment of women – of Jeju’s and Kaohsiung’s women – I would ask you first to consider the strengths to be found in both “Asian Ways” and “Women’s Ways.”


East and West can learn from one another. But the true strength lies within one’s own cultural matrix.


The same can be said for male and female. Feminism in the 20th century emphasized similarities between genders – “women are just as competent as men,” “women can be just as tough as men in business,” etc., and encouraged women to do business in typically male ways.


In the 21st century: women’s ways and women’s wisdom can provide a strengths-based model for economic empowerment. Rather than fixing what’s wrong, this allows us to build on what’s already working for us.


And what are Asian women’s ways?


Relationship. Diplomacy. Consensus. Community. Nurturance. Mentorship. And, as we psychologists often call it: The Feeling Function.


Networking — based not on connectedness for the sake of personal advancement, but on relationship for the sake of community development.


East and West, Male and Female – we can learn from one another – but we must take the best of who we are and build on this, for a strengths-based approach.


Women of Kaohsiung: I’m certain that your cultural backdrop offers equally rich opportunity for enhancing women’s empowerment from within.


Women of Jeju: It is time to awaken Seolmundae Halmang.


In the words of my friend, scholar and mythologist Koh Hea Kyoung, from her 2010 book about Jeju’s Seolmundae:


Discovering great goddesses from the beginning of the world and reviving them in today’s world is my dream as well as the path to a new era – when reason and emotion, humans and nature, and men and women can co-exist in true harmony.”




오늘여러분에게말할수있게되어영광으로생각하고감사드립니다. 저는문화적문맥내에서의에대해얘기하고싶습니다WEP. WEP(Womens’EmpowermentPrinciples)는전세계적으로여성의능력을키우고경제적 평등을이루기위해여성개발기금과글로벌임팩트에의해공동설립되었습니다UNUN.

BPW‘,인터내셔날의주요기능은국제적으로여성들의지속가능한경제성장을육성하고 각자의직업적성취를도모한다는것입니다’.

이러한개의능력은세계적으로공통되도록설계되었지만모든문화에단순적용할수는7,, 없습니다그러나최상의결과를가져오도록문화적문맥에맞도록설계할수는있습니다..

각각의원칙이하나의목표가될수있습니다이목표와그를위한단계들은각국의문화. 적토양에따라달라져야합니다.

그러므로아시아에살고있는소위서양여성으로서문화가개인과사회의정신에미치“”, 는영향에대해관심을가지고연구하는연구자로서저는여러분에게묻고싶습니다,. 어떤가치있는목표를달성하는방법에대해고민할때당신은변화를가져오기위해당, 신의속한문화의매트릭스안에서어떻게움직여야할것인가요?

제주여성의힘은오랜명성을가지고있습니다강한제주여성은가히전설과같습니.”” 다본토의여성학자들은토착페미니즘의본보기로서제주여성들의예를들곤합니다.. “”””.여자가장제및아마조네스와같은말을쓰기도합니다

제주에서도학자페미니스트그리고전문직여성들이이런부분에의문을제기합니다,,. 물론제주의여성들그리고일본대만그리고그밖에생활고를겪어온많은섬여성들,, 이근면불굴의의지그리고용기라는자질을가지고있는것이사실일것입니다,,.

또한제주에서가장잘알려진여성직업인해녀들의문화를볼때경제협동조합을통해,, 서로협력해온것을알수있습니다마을생활에서노동력을공동으로활용하는것은항., 상관행이었으며마을주민들은항상어려운상황을이겨내기위해서로협력해왔습니다,.

한가지중요한사실은한국사회내에서특히제주에서여성들은가정내에서상당한지,, 배권을가져왔다는것입니다.

그러나그러한육체노동직종에관련된경제기구이외이외의분야에서는제주여성들은 아직까지실질적지도력을가지지못하고있습니다기업등에서여성이지도적위치를차. 지하고있는경우는드물며고위관리자의위치에있는여성의숫자도적습니다,. 여성은지역의마을위원회의에서도높은위치를점하지못하고있습니다.

지방법규에의해도위원회에서다섯명의여성을임명하도록되어있지만아직까지선거, 를통해여성이선출된적은없습니다.

남성과여성의임금수준차이는악명높은반면가정폭력과매춘을포함한성폭력비율은, 매우높습니다.

그러므로제주여성들과같이강인한여성들이라하더라도진정한평등과경제적지속성, 달성을위해서는진보할수있는여지가많음을알수있습니다.

그리고차세대여성들이라할수있는우리의딸들은어떤가요? 고난과역경은감소하고점차풍요롭고현대적인생활에익숙해져감에따라어머니들은, 그들의딸들이조상과같은의지를잃어가는것을걱정하고있습니다.

제주여성들의진정한평등을위해살펴보아야할것들중에는일정한테마가있습니다. 보다현대화된유교적가치와역사가깊은여신신화의대립이그것이며공동노동방식과, 평등하고모계중심인전통문화가그것입니다강한제주여성을보여주는예라고할수있. 습니다.

설문대할망은현재잠들어있다고알려져있습니다. 몇세기전부터한국에확실히자리잡은유교문화는제주도에는비교적늦게전파되었는 데이에따르면여성들은사회에서보다가정에서의역할이중시되었습니다,.

유교사회의계층구조는또한직장으로옮겨가여성들이인위적으로낮은위치에서일하, 게하는결과를가져왔습니다한국본토에서는몇몇여성들이기업내에서높은위치에오. 르기도했으며그때마다언론에서많은관심을보이기도했습니다그러나많은경우에그,. 위치는기업내에서의직접적인가족관계로인해만들어진경우가많았습니다.

한국에서기업과정부는일반적으로군사시스템을본떠만들어진경우가많고대부분의, 남성이군대경험을가진반면여성들은그에대한지식이없기때문에일터에서불리한경 우가많습니다.

오늘우리가년운동을기념하는자리에서해야할일은현재까지남아있는상처19484.3 를회복함과더불어평화와인권을향한제주의강력한의지를확인하는것입니다.

이러한상충되는개념들은경제협력의전통을바탕으로제주여성의능력을키우는방식, 에서몇가지시사점을제공합니다.


1)””:;높은수준의기업리더십확립모계전통과평등주의의문화적원리 2)”,”;직장내여성과남성공정을공정하게대우인권보장과차별금지전통적인공동노동 관행평화와인권이니셔티브,; 3)”,”:;여성과남성근로자의복지안전보장위와같음 4)”,”:;여성의교육훈련및능력계발평생교육에대한유교적가치고려 5)”,”:‘’(bulteok)여성의능력계발을위한기업개발공급로의개척및마케팅불턱으로알려 진해녀공동체와의사결정과정 6)””:,지역사회활동과옹호를통한평등에대한홍보섬전체와개별마을의공동체다수 의로알려진강력한커뮤니티NGO,’kwendang’ 7)””:[NGO,남녀평등을달성하기위해진행상황에대한보고다수의연구소개인및공 용정부사업기관],

각각의원칙은현존하는제주문화의기존또는전통적인기능에의해지원될수있습니 다그렇게한다면현대적인관점에서제주의전통문화의특징을새롭게살릴수있고문.,, 화보존의역할도수행하며전통문화존중노력의일환이될것입니다,.

21″”””.세기는아시아의세기로언급되곤하며또한여성의세기라고도합니다 그렇다면저는세기를아시아여성의세기로명명할것을제안합니다21″”.

그래서제주와가오슝의여성의능력제고에대한필요성에대해이야기하면서저는아시 아의방식과여자의방식에서배울점을찾아보라고하고싶습니다“””.

동양과서양은서로에게서배울수있습니다하지만진정한힘은각자의문화적매트릭스. 내에자리잡고있습니다.

남성과여성의관계도그렇다고말할수있습니다세기의페미니즘이여성과남성간의.20 유사성을강조하여여자도남자만큼능력이있다또는여자들도남자들처럼사업에서강‘’” 한면모를보여줄수있다등의말로여성들로하여금남성들의방식을따라하도록장려 했었다면세기는여자의방식과여성의지혜를강점으로한기반모델을제안할수있을,21 것입니다이렇게함으로써잘못된점을고치려고하지않고이미성공을거두고있는모델. 을더욱발전시킬수있을것입니다.

그렇다면아시아여성들의방식이란무엇일까요? 관계외교합의커뮤니티육성멘토쉽그리고심리학자들이감각기능……,“”(Feeling Function).으로부르는것을들수있습니다

네트워킹의경우개인적인발전을위해서가아닌커뮤니티발전을위한관계형성의관점, 에서바라볼수있을것입니다.

동서와남성여성을막론하고우리는서로에게서배울수있습니다그러나우리는강점의,,. 측면에서접근해각자에서최상의것만을취해야할것입니다.

가오슝의여성에게역시그곳의문화적배경이제주와같은풍부한기회를제공하리라확: 신합니다.


저의친구이자신화학자인고혜경씨는그녀의년저서에서설문대에대해다음과같이2010 말했습니다.

태초의위대한여신을발견하고오늘날의세계에서그들을되살리는일은나의꿈일뿐만 아니라새로운시대로가는길입니다그럼으로써이성과감정인간과자연그리고남자와.,, 여자가공동으로진정조화롭게존재할수있습니다.”



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