Helping others is always a blessing
Kang Kyo-cha, president of the National Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) of Korea, received the Mogryeon Medal, the fourth Order of Civil Merit, earlier this month as her contribution in promoting women’s rights in Korea.
“Though I received the medal under my name, I think I was just lucky to represent the YWCA and its members who try to raise women’s rights,” Kang told The Korea Times at an interview.
She has been a member of the YWCA for 35 years and it changed her values and attitudes totally. “I am nothing compared to lifetime members who have been with the organization for more than 60 years,” Kim said. “People start joining the YWCA as early as high school, so I was a late starter.”
Kang graduated Department of Education at Yonsei University and became a professor of Jeonju University in North Jeolla Province. She first joined the YWCA when she was in the southern city of Jeonju to lecture on young women.
“It was early 1970s and there was no education of female consciousness at all. I first felt a sense of social responsibility by telling young women to have identity and independence,” Kang said.
She said that the 1970s was a time when sexual discrimination was taken for granted and working women were considered strange. “I learned how women can affect society and have seen the change of women’s social status throughout my years at the YWCA,” she said.
“The YWCA widened the breadth of my life. If I hadn’t joined the YWCA, I could have lived a life of an educated woman, but not the profound and meaningful one I live now,” she said. “We always seek how to help other people and it was a blessing for me that I always thought of social issues for the 35 years in the YWCA.”
Kang emphasized the role of women in modern society. “For instance, there was no family breakdown in 1970s, though they were economically difficult. But nowadays, families suffer collapse despite financial richness,” the YWCA president said. “It is important for women to balance the family for a healthier society.”
Established in 1922 by the pioneers of Kim Hwal-lan, Kim Pil-lye,and Yoo Kak-kyung, the YWCA Korea will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2022.
“Instead of leaving my name to posterity, I want to be remembered as a YWCA president who paved the way for wrapping up 100 years of YWCA’s history and preparing for the next 100 years,” Kang said.
She said she has been studying futurology to map the future of the YWCA from three years ago. “Though women’s rights are much improved than before, still there are many things for the YWCA to do. We want to serve the needs of women in economic and legal ways and support their human rights,” she said. “We want to be a pioneer in designing a better, healthier society and what roles women would play there, based on our 88 year’s history and tradition and understanding on coming future.”
Dreaming true multicultural society
As Kang herself was an alien while studying abroad in 1960s, she is much interested in immigrant women in Korea.
“It is about how minorities adjust to and survive in a different culture,” Kang said.
The YWCA first started programs for immigrant women in 2001, when there was no word such as multiculturalism or migrant woman existed in Korea.
“At first, we taught them Korean language to help them settle down here. After that, we offered job training and supported them to make communities to voice themselves,” she said. “Just like we gave vocational education to Korean women in 1960s, we now find out what jobs the married immigrants can have.”
They offered job training in 10 occupational categories for 110 married immigrants and established workshops for them. For example, the Ulsan branch has Cafe Rainbow run by immigrant women.
She said that the migrant women should become role models for the newcomers and lead them ultimately. "So we also train them to be multicultural lecturers. That's what they can do best," she said.
The YWCA also awarded the 2007 SBS drama "Golden Bride" as a good drama of the year. The drama featured a Vietnamese woman and her Korean husband and showed how she blended into the family and Korean culture.
"Dramas affect a lot in changing our perceptions and the 'Golden Bride' did a good job in improving impressions on immigrant women," Kang said.
Kang suggested multicultural education for young children, starting from kindergarten, is a good way to promote multiculturalism in Korea. “Koreans should open up their mind to diversity and respect those who are different,” she said. “Understanding and respecting the diversity would bring the social integration and a true multicultural society.”