“Empowering Unwed Mothers in Korea”

“My mother pitied me, yet she did not allow me to come near her neighborhood.”
“I cried buckets over the miserable reality I was facing, in front of a doctor I’d never met before.”
Young unwed mothers Ka Young Jo and Kye Eun Lee openly and bravely shared their stories with the audience at the Human Library of a session hosted by the Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens at the JCI Asia-Pacific Conference 2019 on June 19th. On the topic of “Empowering Unwed Mothers in Korea,” the Centre co-organized the forum with Intree, an unwed mothers’ club in Korea, and the Seoul Young Leaders Club of Rotary. The session aimed to address existing social stigma as well as societal and political challenges faced by unwed mothers in Korean society. Introduced by President Choi HyungSuk of Intree, Secretary General Arrey Obenson of JCI, who also serves as a Board member of the Centre, and BKMC CEO Monika Froehler welcomed the participants, emphasizing on the importance of empowering women through cooperation.
“What would you like your child to see in the future?” asked Froehler to the gathered audience, answering her own question that she would like to show her child a society that “does not stigmatize unwed mothers anymore” when she visits the country again.
  Chairperson Hyekyung Lee of the Korea Foundation for Women expressed her appreciation when giving a congratulatory remark:
“It is delightful that the Centre has selected the topic of the issues of unwed mothers. The Ban Ki-moon Centre’s engagement with JCI, Intree and SYLC makes a huge impact,” said Lee.
The first section entitled ‘Human Library’ was moderated by MC Myoung Ryoon Kim, a women’s right activist, who facilitated heartfelt conversation with two young unwed mothers. For the second section, representatives from academic, private and public sectors gave presentations on the best-practice examples of supports for unwed mothers and discussed areas to improve in the Korean government’s policies towards them:
  • Heekyung Jo Min, Executive Vice President & Head of CSR, CJ CheilJedang
  • Hyeyoung Kim, CEO of Korean Institute for Healthy Family (KIHF)
  • In Gyun Baek, Executive Director of Business Administration Division, KDB Bank
  • Jung Hyeun Sung, Professor of Social Welfare, Hyupsung University
  • Lisa Kuzunishi, Special Researcher, Rikkyo University
  • Simone Eun Mi, Adoption Human Right’s Activist
        Professor Sung talked about challenges and stigma that Korean unwed mothers face daily, stressing that providing them with psychological supports needed for each phase of pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing is also important. Dr. Kuzunish suggested residence as a solution to social issues, using the cases of single-parent families in Japan. The “Hello Dream” project of the CJ Welfare Foundation as well as the Triangle project of the KDB Welfare Foundation were introduced to the unwed mothers who were attending the session. KIHF CEO Kim presented the current policies on single mothers and their children and the integrated framework. Simone Eun Mi shared that she was born to a Korean mother, who later became a single mother, and then was sent for an adoption to the Netherlands by her father. She shared perspectives of the overseas adoptees born to a single mother in Korea.
“[Some] society sees the unwed mothers as problems. For me, I see them as solutions,” said
At the end of the session, as a women’s right advocate, JCI Youth Peace Ambassador, UN Youth Champion, and a singer-songwriter, Tennille Amor also delivered a message on the importance of making the voices of women and girls heard and performed two meaningful songs that she wrote: “Bad Name” and “I am a Girl.” Watch the music videos: