Feminist Lee wins YWCA award
The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) selected Lee Hyo-jae, a veteran activist for the feminist movement in Korea, as the winner of the 10th Korean Women Leaders’ Award, Tuesday.
The YWCA recognized Lee’s life-long dedication to advocating women’s rights.
“We’ve decided to give the award to Lee as she has played a pivotal role in enhancing the social status and rights of women in Korea, as a pioneering feminist scholar and activist,” YWCA President Cha Kyung-ae said.
The 88-year-old activist has led a campaign to demand Japan pay compensation to former “comfort women,” a euphemism for sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II, for their pain and suffering. She has also contributed to advocating women’s rights in provincial regions throughout the country.
“I would like to share this honor with all those who have worked for women’s rights and strived to achieve an equal society, and I’m very thankful,” Lee said in a statement.
Lee has served as the head of the Kyungshin Institute of Social Welfare since 1997 to present a new vision for the feminist movement. She once served as co-representative of the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. She was a sociology professor at Ewha Womans University before becoming chairwoman of the Korean Women’s Association United between 1990 and 1992.
“The approach to women’s issues should be intellectual, rather than emotional,” said Lee. “Women should engage in intellectual activities to be able to take such an approach, she added.
Cha said one of Lee’s accomplishments was the creation of the Miracle Library in Jinhae-gu, Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province.
After retiring, Lee started working with the Jinhae YWCA. “The YWCA director told me that children in the area did not read enough,” said Lee.
The library was set up under Lee’s leadership, through a library building project on a TV show on MBC.
Lee also considered it a serious problem that women themselves were oblivious to women’s issues. She thought it was important to get women involved in the community.
“I noticed that mothers often tagged along with their children to the library, and it occurred to me that we could get them to work as volunteers,” said Lee.
The library turned out to be a success. Lee and other volunteers did collaborative research and listened to lectures. The director then organized the volunteers into an organization and started giving them training sessions.
“It is important that women are aware of their own rights,” Lee said.
The YWCA also chose Im Young-shin, the leader of the civic group Imagine Peace, and Rep. Park Sun-young of the minor opposition Liberal Forward Party as the recipients of the Young Leadership Award and Special Award, respectively.
Im was recognized for her work as a member of a peace group opposing the Iraq war. She visited Iraq, and established libraries to promote peace in conflict-stricken areas.
“I am honored to receive an award along with the respected leader Lee Hyo-jae,” said the 42-year-old activist. “However, I also feel a responsibility now, to live up to the award I’ve been given,” she said.
For Im, peace is to understand and embrace others. “The title of my book is “Peace, My Journey,” she said. “Peace is like a journey to acquire the ability to relate to your enemy, and put yourself in their shoes.”
Recently having visited Gangjeong Village on Jeju Island, caught up in a dispute surrounding the construction of a naval base, Im talks about what it means to bring peace to the region. “It’s all about having dialogue between the opposing parties,” said Im.
Meanwhile, Rep. Park has worked consistently to protect the rights of minority groups. In particular, she has demanded China stop repatriating North Korean defectors. She has also called for international help to give refugee status to the defectors.
The Korea YWCA is celebrating its 90th Anniversary this year. “The greatest accomplishment we have made so far is the cultivation of female leaders,” Cha said, adding “We will continue with this mission keeping our centennial anniversary in mind.”
The writer is an intern for The Korea Times