Dinner Remarks 4-23-12
I am so moved to be at this moment, where the work of the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network, is becoming entirely a Korean concern. When I was first in Seoul, in March 2007 and talked to Koreans about unwed mothers, the main response indicated it was an undiscussed topic, and people felt shame, that we strangers had brought it to their attention. It wasn’t clear to me what if anything would happen, as a result. Here we are 5 years later, and everything has changed. And now it is time for us to happily go home.
I want to acknowledge Dr. Boas for his bravery in addressing a painful issue, in a foreign country, in a foreign language. I salute your courage and commitment, your perseverance rather than turning away. Few people follow through, in the way you have, to take action on social injustice. It has been an honour and privilege to work with you.
Many of my next appreciations will echo those of Dr. Boas, not surprisingly. And my apologies for not naming everyone, we could be here all night, and my memory isn’t what it used to be. First to thank is Ryu Minwoo. Without your deep bi-cultural sensitivity, and willingness to take a leap in to the unknown, our work would be quite different. I came here the first time knowing no one, and Moon Chun Sung had arranged for this young man to interpret for me at a meeting. Little did either of us know what we were getting in to.
Although she is not here, I want to thank Ms. Han of Aeronwon, who did so much in the first years of our work, to help us understand the situation of unwed moms, and who introduced first us to unwed moms. And thank you to Young Kyung who persisted in offering to help with the work, and then so gracefully coordinated and connected.
A deep bow of gratitude to Drs. Kim and Lee at KWDI – your generosity, intelligence, skill, connections, and deep caring have made a world of difference for unwed moms.
It is beyond words to appreciate and say thank you to Kwon Hee Jung. You have an extraordinary ability to analyse the situation for women and in particular unwed moms, in Korea, to make connections between various political realities, and then to write so beautifully. You have been patient, committed, you developed an amazing team to carry on the work, you made yourself available far beyond the duties of a job. I am grateful to have worked with you.
Gratitude to Han Sueng Hee, who combines kindness and good humour with penetrating intelligence, and who has so capably helped keep things running at KUMSN. Yoo Ji Young for insights, deep caring, and excellent translation. In particular Jerri kept Dr. Boas and I up to date, by sharing the news from Korea. Thank you to Kang Eun Joo who rescued the website and who has turned it in to a place of beauty and high function. And thank you to Lee Seulgi, for translations and undertaking to share relevant news from the wider world, with Koreans, through her blog, first as a volunteer and then as staff. Seulgi represents the next generation of feminists.
The old KUMSN has to thank the preparatory committee, under the able and focused leadership of Dr. Cho, for doing magic similar to pulling a rabbit out of a hat, by pulling the new KUMSN together is such short time. I offer endless appreciation.
Circling back to Dr. Boas, it was his vision - that unwed moms deserved the same rights as all moms, to raise their children, and that those children deserved the right to be raised by their moms - that got us all going, and keeps us going. I am in awe of the speed at which Korean society changes. What was an odd and shameful conversation 5 years ago, is being written in to government plans and policies and laws. More unwed moms are raising their children. Unwed moms have their own self advocacy groups.
Yet, there is still a huge gap in terms of social attitudes, employment and school opportunities, and government support that needs to be addressed. Too many mothers are pressured to relinquish their babies for adoption, with the particularly harmful message that it is better for them both. It is not time to pat ourselves on the back and feel like the work is done. But that time may come. I look forward to the day when KUMSN is not needed anymore, because there is simply no distinction between moms, no categorization. When that happens KUMSN can merge with the broader women’s movement, to work for the rights and well being of all Korean mothers.