Aug. 26- Sept. 8, 2005
Vol. 35, Issue 14
Back Issues
IN THIS ISSUE

U.Va. holds steady at No. 2

Faculty diversity rising
Sponsored research tops $300 million
University fills four key posts
Groh gets new contract
Digest
A global perspective
Deily: 'Let your conscience by your guide'
Crumpler cuts the lights and advocates more conscious energy use
Leadership lessons from Shakespeare prove timely
Staff discount tickets now on sale for Sept. 5 football game
Leading conservationist Pressey to lecture, teach at U.Va. in September
New O-Hill Dining Hall now open for business

 

A global perspective
Students, faculty attend Ninth International Interdisciplinary Congress on Women

By Sheri Trice

Koria1a
Photos by Peggy Harrison
Many speak of New York as being the “city that never sleeps,” but according to Sharon Davie, director of the Women’s Center, Seoul is “the city that really never sleeps.” Giant neon signs outline Seoul’s buildings emphasizing its vibrancy.

When 12 young women stepped off their plane into unfamiliar territory this June, the welcome was bold: flashing neon signs, the sound of 11 million footsteps, the chatter of thousands of simultaneous exchanges and the aroma of cooking meat permeating the air. The U.Va. students had traveled 15 hours to Seoul, South Korea for the Ninth International Interdisciplinary Congress on Women, and what turned out to be a life-altering experience.

The conference, held June 19-24, coincided with the first international women’s studies course offered by the University: Studies in Women and Gender 345, “Local Feminisms, Global Perspectives.” Co-taught by Sharon Davie, director of the U.Va. Women’s Center, and Dawn Anderson, director of mentoring and diversity programs, the course focused on such topics as violence against women, reproductive choice and abortion, sexual freedom, economic realties for women and their children, and employment opportunities and discrimination.

For Davie and Anderson, the conference was an opportunity for self-fulfillment as well as a chance to allow students to travel outside of the familiar. “I’ve always been interested in international studies … how to get [the students] to think outside the box,” Anderson said.

Arriving at Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul, the U.Va. group was greeted by the students and staff there who thanked them for participating in the conference, the first to be held in Asia.

For her upcoming book, Sharon Davie, director of the U.Va. Women’s Center, interviews Njoki Wainaina, an African activist. Davie and Wainaina were among the 2,000 delegates from 75 countries who participated in the conference.

Later that day, a welcome festival was held for the 2,000 delegates from 75 countries. Among those at the event were the First Lady of Korea, Yang-suk Kwon, President of the Pan-African Parliament Gertrude Mongella and Lee Myung Bak, the mayor of Seoul.

Though the trip did include great food and hospitality, numerous tourist attractions and breathtaking scenery, the women had convened for a greater purpose: to discuss the status of women around the world.

To that end, U.Va. students interviewed such activists as members of the Korean Women Workers and the Seoul Women’s Trade Union to learn about the status and progress of the women’s movement throughout Korea.

The students met with the Korean Women Workers “in a hot, tiny, airless room” to discuss women’s benefits in the workplace, Davie said. According to Anderson, 70 percent of women working in Seoul are temporary workers who receive no benefits. Only the top 10 percent of women workers receive benefits packages at all, she noted.

The students also were told of how one Korean activist group won maternity leave for new Korean mothers. Before picketing, these activists stuffed their blouses so they would appear pregnant. When the riot police were called in to calm the situation, the women stood firm, their protruding bellies facing the police whose guns were aimed directly at them. News of this incident was picked up by the press, which ultimately resulted in the Korean government granting Korean women maternity leave.

On the steps of Ewha Woman’s University, the host of this year’s conference, Davie (seated, left) and students Saunders Moore (seated, right) and Jieun Kim go over notes from the day’s sessions they attended.

In addition, the students learned that through similar initiatives by Korean women activists, the minimum wage was raised from $350 a month to $650 a month.

Not all that the students learned, though, was after the fact. They witnessed activism firsthand by a group of Korean activists who have been protesting in front of the Japanese Embassy every Wednesday for 13 years. The protests are an attempt to convince the Japanese government to take responsibility for, and pay reparations to, the Korean “comfort women” who were used in World War II as sex slaves by Japanese soldiers.

“It was really overwhelming,” said Susie Carl, now a fourth-year nursing student. “For a lot of us, it was the first protest that we had participated in. … To participate in the activism instead of learning about it was very powerful. … The scene was very emotional. … Everyone was crying at one point.”

Sarah Whitney, assistant director of the Women’s Center, agreed. From a tourist’s perspective, when you look at Seoul, everything seems booming, she said. “But the women could be doing a lot better.”

Attending the conference “was eye-opening for me. It made me thankful for the gains that feminist advocates have made” in the United States.

 
  Students experienced activism first-hand. Here, Catherine Miller holds a sign to protest her dissatisfaction with the treatment of former Korean “comfort women,” who were used as sex slaves by Japanese soldiers during WWII. U.Va. students were invited to protest by Korean activists, who for the past 13 years have been protesting every Wednesday in front of the Japanese Embassy, seeking an apology and reparations for these women from the government.

Another one of the conference’s goals was for the students to meet and learn from the women of other nations, to observe their differences and similarities in a way that they otherwise may never have had the opportunity to do. U.Va. students interviewed conference attendees who ranged from being African activists and parliamentary leaders to scholars and feminists. “I think this was the assignment they most dreaded, but the one they got the most mileage out of,” Whitney said.

Fourth-year student Saunders Moore initially found the idea of interviewing Njoki Wainaina, a Kenyan activist who spoke about increasing men’s roles in AIDS prevention, intimidating. But as the conference progressed, Moore said she found herself naturally taking time to interact with women, even when not assigned. She learned that in many countries with predominantly patriarchal societies, such as Korea, “women aren’t recognized as having the potential to be equal so they are not given the opportunity. … American women feel secure enough to say things whether they will be heard or not.”

“I have always been interested in writing about women who have been courageous in dealing with such things as physical violence,” said Davie, who takes every opportunity to meet women from different walks of life. In 2002, she represented U.Va. at the Eighth International Interdisciplinary Conference in Uganda.

This year’s conference gave the U.Va. group a chance to step back from the academic and theoretical side of feminism and see it through the eyes of women who make it their jobs to protect and fight for their rights everyday. “Seeing how to apply the theories I’ve learned into activist practice made me want to come back here and take action,” Moore said. “It was an amazing way for people to meet and talk about human rights.”

In Seoul there coexists a unique blend of modern and traditional architecture.

Inspired by the “persistence and determination” of the Korean Council and by her overall experience in Seoul, Kimberly Corum, a third-year student, helped facilitate a protest in Charlottesville on Aug. 10, which was part of a global rally organized by the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. “When I heard that [the Korean Council] was trying to facilitate something international for their cause, I was inspired to do my part,” Corum said. The Charlottesville rally yielded 70 signatures toward the Korean Council’s goal of 1 million. The council hopes that the petition will help deny Japan’s entrance into the United Nation’s Security Council until reparations have been paid for its war crimes.

In 2008, the Women’s World Conference will be held in Madrid, Spain. Davie and Anderson are already making plans to take students on another life-altering trip.

Women’s World 2005 was packed with activities for its participants. Each day, U.Va. students and coordinators participated in sessions to discuss topics such as activism, sexual freedom and harassment.

 

Students Saunders Moore (right) and Christina Ridgway (center) talk with Dawn Leigh Anderson, director of mentoring and diversity at the University, outside one of Seoul’s traditional palaces.
Students Julie McNeil, Saunders Moore (center) and Pamela Wren enjoy shopping in one of Seoul’s open-air markets.

Cultural contrasts & barriers

In addition to meeting hundreds of phenomenal international women at the conference — such as Njoki Wainaina, who spoke of her efforts to garner more male participation in the fight against AIDS in Kenya — Sarah Whitney, assistant director of the Women’s Center, also enjoyed Seoul’s relentless vibrancy.

“From an artistic perspective, the city has a lot of gates and palaces co-existing with skyscrapers … ancient existing with modern,” she said. “You would see a pagoda and right next to it you’d see the Samsung building with a big flashing screen.” Whitney also recalled the crowded open-air markets, spanning blocks, with vendors selling modern and traditional goods “right next to one another.”

The students and directors soaked up as much of Seoul as they could during their two-week stay, but there was one clear obstacle — the language barrier.

“We would pick out a good restaurant to go to in the guide books. … Then we’d get there and couldn’t find it because everything would be written in Korean,” said Saunders Moore, a women’s studies and sociology major. “Most people didn’t speak English, so there would be times when you would just start laughing, like, ‘I don’t understand you and you don’t understand me!’” But through gesturing and other means of communication, the group survived, thrived — and ate quite well to boot.

 


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