Human Rights issues

Gender in Korea

I remember reading a very brief news article about spousal rape in Korea when I was doing research in field. However, I didn’t have time to reflect or write about it then.

At the time I read that article, I was initially surprised that there weren’t stronger policies or penalties for perpetrators involved in sexual assault or spousal rape. And while I knew about the violence, unequal treatment and status of women around the world, I made a mistake in assuming that an economically advanced society would have developed and implemented policies that prevent and condemn gendered violence.

Another lesson in self-awareness took place when I realized that my automatic assumptions and reaction of surprise to reality is a reflection of my own experience and perspective as a woman in the U.S. For me, it took the experience of traveling abroad and living in another culture, to realize the social and legal protection of my rights and status as a woman are something that I have taken for granted, and that many women in the world do not have their rights realized.

Spousal rape hot discussion topic

The news article above was posted a few days ago on Korea Joongang Daily’s website and motivated me to blog and share this with others who may not know this human rights violation is happening in Korea. Some of the statements from those opposing legislation that penalize the perpetrating spouse were unbelievable.

“In Korea, once a woman is married, she is typically considered part of a family, which then in a way makes her no longer considered a woman.”

“In family relationships, a father does not see his wife or daughters as women.”

“If we punish the ‘marital rape’ cases without considering the special nature of the relationship between a husband and a wife, it could possibly give those wives who have a bad relationship with their husband a chance to bend the rules to their favor when they file a divorce suit,”

I thought I had gained a better understanding of gender inequality in Korea, but through my experiences in field and living in Korea, had sense of hope for very slow, but gradual progress for Korean womens’ rights. But reading this recent article and learning that people still view sexual violence as acceptable in the relationship between husband and wife puts me back to a place where I feel like I still know nothing.

As much as I try to consider and understand these gender and family issues with the cultural, societal, and historical context of Korea, I can’t accept it. Furthering my understanding about the universality of human rights and cultural relativism, which I first learned about in my program, would be worth doing as I think about gender rights and human rights violations in Korea.

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Categories: Family issues, Human Rights issues, Korean Culture, Other Social Welfare Issues, Social Work, Women's Issues | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Organizational sustainability and the problem of funding

I actually finished the “birth mother syndrome” project last month at the same time that the study group was finishing their study on Family Ties by Lee Jun-Il.  The author who is also a professor, actually came to the last study group meeting to discuss his book and members were able to ask questions and give feedback.  I attended and was able to follow the discussion thanks to the help of another adoptee, who was nice enough to provide me with the basic translations throughout the meeting.

My field educator, Han Seo Seung-hee (who was sadly leaving KUMSN to advance her studies), gave me the opportunity to choose what kind of project or work I would like to do next with my interests in mind. Because KUMSN is a new organization, my initial interests were in developing more formal tools or processes that would help the organization with future funding and enable them to collect concrete data on their effectiveness or to demonstrate the need for tangible and societal support to unwed mothers.  My ideas included creating an intake process, creating and conducting a needs assessment, and either begin to think about or develop measures for program evaluation.  However, KUMSN is almost too new as an NGO and the main priority is to secure long-term funding or fiscal partnership in order to continue operating and be able to sustain in Korea.

However, the donor and community giving atmosphere in Korea is very different than it is currently in the U.S.  While there seems to be a shift in the business and corporate world to community giving and its impact on social and environmental issues (as well as greater tax incentives), there is little pressure on leaders in the Korean corporate world to give back. Most financial opportunities and grants that are available in Korea are through the federal government, institutions for higher education, foundations, and private opportunities.

Also, there is a much greater level of involvement for donors and grantors in the organization’s operations and activities than what is common in the U.S.  That is, financial contributors have greater power and influence as a stakeholder in NGO’s which often do not align with the organization’s value system or mission.  There is also the problem in Korea and for KUMSN especially, with an unwillingness to fund or donate to an organization because the cause or mission is seen as controversial or radical.  Since there is still such a strong stigma on unwed mothers who are pregnant or choose to raise their children, many companies and organizations are not interested in supporting or are concerned about their image if they became affiliated.

From what I have heard from others, the topic of unwed mothers is a hot issue currently and support (or opposition) may change in the future as a result of a popular Korean drama called “Childless Comfort” or 무자식 상팔자 in Korean.

Childless Comfort or 무자식 상팔자

Childless Comfort or 무자식 상팔자

As many of us know, the depiction of a social issue in the media can have a significant impact on the attitudes and beliefs of the general public which may help or hinder the efforts of organizations like KUMSN and KUMFA.

Since the current funding source for KUMSN has only agreed to a two-year contract in which this will mark their final year, there is a significant amount of pressure for KUMSN to become self-sustaining or to locate other sources of funding in order to continue with their activities and advocacy for unwed mothers in Korea. Recently, they received a donation of 1,220,000 KWN ($1112 USD) from Nuffic Neso Korea which will go towards the education of the general public about the issue of unwed mothers and raising awareness.  KUMSN also receives in-kind donations such as baby clothing and other items from other voluntary groups through the “cafe network” in Korea, which seems to be similar to “Meetup.com”.

Because of the lack of domestic support on the issue of unwed mothers and the poor environment for charitable giving in South Korea, KUMSN is seeking international opportunities for funding, grants, and fiscal partnerships or sponsors. It is an area that I am not very familiar with but I have had a desire to learn more about writing grant proposals since securing funding is not limited to the interests of South Korean NGO’s but is in demand worldwide. I have located a few opportunities including the Global Fund for Women at www.globalfundforwomen.org, Mama Cash at www.mamacash.org, as well as other international women’s and human right’s funding websites and will begin drafting a prelimary proposal or application to the ones I have located.

If you or someone you know is interested in supporting KUMSN or has information about international funding and grant opportunities, please contact me or the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network directly: kumsn@kumsn.org

Information about the organization’s activities, achievements, impact, and how you can help can be found on the “About Field Organization: KUMSN” page linked above or visit their website Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network

 

 

Unwed mothers in Korean media:

‘Childless Comfort’ looks like TV game-changer

Speedy Scandal (2008)

Categories: Family issues, Field Experience, Human Rights issues, Korean Culture, Other Social Welfare Issues, Social Work, Women's Issues | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Birth mother syndrome”

Just wanted to update everyone on how things have been going here in Korea and I have much to report! After finally demonstrating that I am a capable student and have an understanding of the situation of unwed mothers and women in Korea, I have been involved in many KUMSN activities and projects. Most recently, I developed a curriculum for KUMSN’s study group with research regarding “birth mother syndrome”, which is not actually a clinical term but encompasses all the long-term effects experienced by the birth mother as a result of relinquishing a child for adoption.

Birthmothers by Merry Bloch Jones

Because of the language challenges and the difficulty of reading research articles (especially for those not used to reading them), I created a comprehensive summary of the literature that I reviewed in English and provided to the study group members ahead of time. Topics include the working definition of “birth mother syndrome” as described by Merry Bloc Jones in her book Birthmothers,

various theories contributing to the issue, the “symptoms”, possible causes, the situation of birth mothers viewed through a human rights perspective, and how the experience of birth mothers relates to the issue and problem that unwed mothers face in Korea. The summary is still about 15 pages long and does not include all the research that I would have liked to include but for the sake of time and interest of the study group, I shortened it.  Two themes that I found to be the most significant because they underlie every aspect of adoption are social constructionism and gender inequality through mostly a feminist perspective.

The study group will begin discussing the subject of “birth mother syndrome” beginning with the theories and symptoms or effects.  The research topic was very interesting to me and I did not have any frustrations or impatience with the readings. I also learned a lot thanks to the work of others and was able to access a lot of material related to PTSD, trauma, and the effects of state/regional and national apologies for forced adoptions that occurred in Australia.

Australia’s National Forced Adoption Apology 3/21/13

There are also national inquiries by Origins International in Canada, New Zealand, Scotland, and the United States.

Origins International

I wonder when it will begin to catch on in South Korea because of it’s reputation as the #1 Baby Exporter and one of the leading supplying countries of intercountry adoptions. Actually, the majority of my research on birth mothers and the long term effects of relinquishing a child for adoption was based on the studies and narratives of those in other countries. I suspect that coercion and possibly even the use of prescription drugs in some rural areas is still prevalent in Korea given the strong stigma that still exists for out-of-wedlock pregnancies and domestic adoptions.  Similarly, there still seems to be a great amount of shame, secrecy, and silence among birth mothers in Korea and I am not quite sure where or how this population could be accessed. If there are any studies or research on Korean birth mothers, they must be in Korean because I was not able to locate them in any of the U.S. databases that I am allowed access to.

If anyone has any information or insight about the experiences of Korean birth mothers and the absence of their voice, I would be very interested to learn and understand.

Categories: Child welfare, Family issues, Field Experience, Human Rights issues, Other Social Welfare Issues, Social Work, Women's Issues | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Korea?

Most recently, South Korea has been in the international spotlight since the popular song “Gangnam Style” by singer, PSY went viral in 2012.  Korea is also known for their competitive electronic and automobile manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, Hyundai, and Kia.  In fact, South Korea’s economy is ranked as the world’s 15th (nominal) and 12th (purchasing power), which grew rapidly since the Korean War stalemate in the early 1960’s and through the 1990’s.  Koreans refer to this growth as the “Miracle on Han River”.  While many people acknowledge the “K-pop” culture and industry, the advanced technology and network capabilities, as well as the business and employment opportunities in Korea, most people do not realize or understand the social and political environment in Korea today.

My interest in Korea stems from my own personal connection as an adoptee.  As I gained insight about Korean history and culture, I came to realize that there are many dynamics which contribute to their social problems.  I don’t know the best place to start but I hope that I can shed light on the current welfare state in Korea through my views and experiences.  Initially, I was concerned about the long history of Korean international adoptions which I have studied prior to my trip here.

In sum, the initial issue for me was that, despite Korea’s economic growth and increased standard of living, the practice of sending orphaned children to foreign countries is still a common practice.  This practice began as a temporary solution to the large number orphaned children from the Korean War, however the rate of adoptions steadily increased, peaking in the 1980’s, and totaling an estimated 160,000 Korean children sent abroad for adoption since 1958.  South Korea is known as the “#1 baby exporter” because of its history as the largest international adoption program and is credited as the birthplace of international adoption with the foundation of Holt International, the largest international adoption agency in the world.  It is considered a national shame by Koreans and many other countries, yet the practice of sending babies for adoption remains common and even encouraged.  This is largely because of the strong stigma that is placed on women who become pregnant out of wedlock which are related to the traditional Confucius values that prevail in Korean society such as gender hierarchies and the emphasis on family units.

As I continue to learn more about Korean history, culture, and societal values and beliefs, I realize that it is not only an issue for Korean adoptees and their birth families, but also an issue involving gender roles and women’s’ rights, parenting practices, families, child welfare, human rights, and Korean culture and societal norms.  The organization that I am completing my advanced field placement with is a non-government organization (NGO) called Korean Unwed Mother’s Support Network. This organization was established in 2007 by Dr. Richard Boas, an American adoptive parent, to provide support, resources, and advocacy for unwed mothers to keep and raise their children in Korea.

The video posted here is an interview with an unwed mother in Korea known as Miss Mamma Mia who founded the Korean Unwed Mothers Families’ Association (KUMFA) which is a group founded by and for unwed mothers in Korea.

KUMSN and Dr. Boas strongly support KUMFA’s activities and goals as well as many others including Korean adoptees, Korean domestic adoption supporters, and other advocates from various interest groups and fields that want to support unwed mothers and their families in Korea.  I hope that this post and video gives a sense of the situation.  It is my future hope that unwed parents and their children will have better lives and be accepted by Korean society at every level.  Empowering unwed mothers to keep their children, changing the role and responsibility of unwed fathers, and normalizing non-traditional family forms in Korea would increase individual rights and equality.  I believe that this must happen before changes in Korean adoption practices can occur.

 

 

 

Video Source:

Interview with a leader from KUMFA (Miss Mamma Mia). [YouTube Video]. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6sIQhREltk

Categories: Field Experience, Human Rights issues, Korean Culture, Other Social Welfare Issues, Social Work, Women's Issues | 2 Comments

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