Final Thoughts from Korea


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Asia » South Korea » Seoul
May 30th 2011
Published: June 2nd 2011
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...though I’m sure these won’t be the final, final thoughts. Something about this place and these people keeps bringing me back (obviously), and (probably much to my parents’ chagrin—and other loved ones Stateside) I don’t doubt that I will find myself here at some point in the future. At the least, as a Women’s and Gender Studies student—and someone who has an interest in issues within feminism, gender theory, etc., regardless of my major/minor/title/etc.--it is clear that there is more to be mined here than what can be encompassed in just a few weeks.

Domestic and sexual violence, of course, are just tips of the iceberg, and these organizations I’ve worked with have given me the insights and tools I need to start digging deeper. I’ve started doing so, in some regards, within the issues at hand. But at each turn, there was another link to connect to. For example, among all the talk at the House of Sharing and with the Korean Council, there were continual references to the current issue of prostitution and sex trafficking in Korea—and the NGOs here who help deal with those issues. In particular, in considering the issues of the halmoni mentioned before and their transcending desire to see an end to all war, not just reparation for their suffering, it is interesting to note that one of the biggest places these NGOs concentrate their efforts are around U.S. military bases. There are plenty of stories out there of women trafficked from other parts of Asia, promised jobs as entertainers, waitresses, etc., only to find out that they were stuck in a brothel, or had to turn over enough money at their waitressing gig or else make up for it by prostituting themselves to the clients. Most of these women, of course, don’t speak Korean, don’t know the legal system, and have a difficult time finding a way out. This story, of course, is not uncommon to many situations of human trafficking the world over. Yet, as we talk about the living history of the halmoni, their hopes for future generations, and the gender issues faced in Korea, it’s important to note that these issues are not trapped in history. They are living, they are breathing—they are part of these human beings who actually living and suffering in the present. This is why we must work, and this is why we must fight.

Perhaps, though, for me, the problem is the vastness of these issues, the world over. Domestic and sexual violence are not limited to Korea, Asia, Confucian-based countries, etc. Nor is discrimination, sexism, etc. As I believe I’ve mentioned, these issues are present in every society, even if covered over with a veneer of progressivism or modernization. Many people I’ve spoken to, both here and in the U.S., commented on how many people think that feminism is dead, no longer necessary. That women have equal rights, that there’s no work left to be done. While certainly there has been much progress in countries like the U.S., Korea, and others over the last 25-75 years, it is clear to me that there is much to be done. Or, at least, maybe there will always be much to be done. (For example, for stats on sexual violence in the U.S., visit www.rainn.org, or for those who have more local affiliations, visit the site for Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, where I happen to volunteer in Columbia, SC.)

So, I can say that I’m glad that I came here, grateful for the relationships I’ve built, and quite happy to have found such communities of activists hard at work here on the other side of the ocean. I’m grateful to have found these sisters and brothers and to have been welcomed into their midst. But I can also say the work continues. When I leave, their work here will continue. And when I arrive in the U.S., perhaps my work will, in some ways, just be beginning. Of course, my ongoing activism with issues locally/nationally and volunteering and my local NGO, STSM, will continue; but I feel I’m also walking down a path to greater exploration and work with these issues on broader scales. There are stories to be written, essays—who knows what else could come of this. And hopefully, then, when I return, I will be able to continue to engage with this work, to support this activism, and learn more about the human rights issues at stake.

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