[My article, reprinted from Jeju Weekly]
Strengthening the ‘strong Jeju woman’
Women’s Empowerment Principles, according to Jeju women leaders
Part two of a three-part series.
How can the women leaders of Jeju help to empower Jeju’s women?
“We need to stop fighting one another and focus on politics and policy change,” Council member [Grand National Party] Lee Sunhwa responded, “encouraging women’s leadership and including women’s power.”
Council member [Democratic Party] Bang Moon Choo agrees.
“We have to increase the number of high-level female government officers, to expand women’s opportunities to take part in policy decision-making. We must also support female committee members’ participation.”
“We need women’s full participation in Jeju society, not only in the home,” according to Koh Young-sil, manager of the provincial government’s Women and Family Policy Division and responsible for the development of Jeju Women Governance Forum.
“We must uncover hidden talents among women, and provide them with opportunities to share these talents with the community,” she continued.
Women of Jeju have two key benefits over their mainland counterparts, according to Koh. They have long held a ‘spirit of independence,’ both in financial terms and as a character trait. And, the inheritance practice of Jeju has long been one of asset distribution to both daughters and sons.
“Jeju society encourages women to be strong – but not, to be leaders,” suggested Han Rimhwa, author and president of Jeju Writers Association. “My mother, who was born in Seoul, became a strong Jeju woman by living here – and saw to it that her daughters were, too.”
Bang responded, “Jeju women have to establish the belief that they are owners of Jeju, as a driving force in Jeju’s development.”
“In the past, Jeju women had a great role in economic activity. Even now, they rate the highest in Korea for women in business: 59.1 percent, compared to 50.2 percent in the mainland [Korean National Statistic Office, 2011]. Double-income families are at 53.7 percent in Jeju, as opposed to only 39.2 percent nationally.”
According to Hur Kyung-Ja, essayist and vice president of Daekyung Engineering,“The women of Jeju focus mostly on making money. They must also nurture themselves, and give back to their community.”
Bang would agree, citing as one path to Jeju women’s leadership “the spirit of Kim Man Deok, a symbol of distribution and consideration, developing this as a tradition of Jeju community. The other,” she continued, “is the spirit of this age, or the will to join the mainstream in all fields.”
A leadership training session for female CEOs was offered by Jeju Small and Medium Business Association on May 24, and 40 women participated. An association representative pronounced the event a success, while allowing that a majority of attendees were not corporate CEOs but small business owners.
Jeju women have not moved sufficiently into leadership positions, according to Bang.
“The number of female government officials at Level 5 and above is only at 8.9 percent, which ranks Jeju 7th in Korea and slightly above the average of 8.1 percent,” she said, citing a 2009 report from the Ministry of Public Administration and Security.
Im Ae Duk, director of AeSuhWon center for single mothers and secretary general for Jeju Women’s Governance Forum, feels that discrimination against women exists at virtually all levels of society.
Long a champion of rights for women as well as other marginalized groups, she is also an officer ofBusiness and Professional Women [BPW: Jeju chapter]. BPW, an international organization, is focused on the Women’s Empowerment Principles outlined by the Women’s Development Fund of the United Nations.
Im has recently proposed a women’s empowerment training program for Jeju.
The president of YWCA, Shin Kyung In, is a firm believer in empowering Jeju’s women and many such programs are offered at her organization.
“The women of Jeju must discover and nurture their talents – their potential,” she expressed. “When its women are happy, Jeju is happy.”
“’Strong’ has never meant ‘equal’” when applied to the status of Jeju women, according to Kim Yeong Soon, assistant director of Seolmundae Women’s Center. “Jeju women were forced to be strong due to harsh conditions. But this has never been a ‘matriarchy’,” she furthered.
Lee Gyeong Seon of the Women’s Association and Kim Hyoseon of Women’s Rights Organization agree.
“There is a large generation gap between women in their 40s and those in their 60s,” according to Kim when asked about the progress of Jeju women. “But there is still a lot of discrimination and violence against women.”
“Jeju women have a strong economic history,” added Lee, “but a great deal of poverty still exists in the women’s community, too.”
Bang contributed, “We must protect women from violence…[and] also create a healthy family culture which includes those of transnational marriages and multicultural families.”
“We must also continue improving gender recognition and expand the gender influence assessment,” she concluded.
The ‘most famous feminist in the world,’ Gloria Steinem, recently visited Jeju and spoke about its history of strong women as an example to the world.
Ahn Hye-kyoung, Artspace C gallery owner and longtime Jeju feminist, contributed: “The social life for Jeju women was actually more open, and women less inhibited, in the past. But it’s opening again, little by little.”
Next: Part three: WEP in Practice: Women of Jeju Speak Out
See: Part one: WEP: Definition and Local Implications