Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Road to real empowerment?

In my previous post, I questioned whether the South Korean government's recent efforts in bringing 'multiculturalism' are truly effective in empowering migrant women.
While in Seoul, I explored three examples that could act as alternatives to the problematic top-down approach.

1. "Let our voice be heard": theatre run by migrant women

Formed in 2008, a theatre group called 'Salad' is a social enterprise seeking to build migrant women's capacities through cultural activities. It trains women who are interested in theatre performance, as actors or other staffs, and stage them regularly in various venues around the country. Through this, migrant women are engaged in a more productive and public affairs, and also form support networks/communities with one another. Salad is named after their goal, because they believe it exemplifies the state of peaceful coexistence and grassroots multiculturalism. I think this type of cultural engagement is successful in making these women more visible and independent as well as more integrated into the Korean society.

2. "We as transmitters of multiculturalism": a restaurant run by migrants 

The restaurant called "Oyori" is located near Hongik University, a youthful and hip cultural district of Seoul, is unique because some of its workers are migrant women. Oyori came to its existence through a social enterprise initiative called 'Project Oyori', which seeks to involve marriage migrant women into economic activities, rather than just family care or child rearing, through cooking. Despite the growing desire for these women to participate in economic activities, there are not many opportunities out there. I think cooking can be a good, realistic start, with high chances of success. Eventually, Oyori hopes migrant women to become entrepreneurs themselves, which faces many financial and sociocultural hurdles at the moment.

 3. The first women migrant local legislator

This woman (Lee Ra) is the very first migrant woman who was elected as a local legislator in the local elections last June. Originally a marriage migrant from Mongolia, she announced her desire to run for the post on her own, to advocate for pressing policy issues related to migrant women. I think she demonstrates an excellent example of empowered women, and hope Korea will have more of these migrant women in public service, who can speak for themselves, and act as citizens.

At last, I am in Hong Kong! First impressions and more to follow soon...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

In Seoul

Before I head to Hong Kong's Asian Migrant Centre, I am staying in my hometown, Seoul, South Korea.
It's exciting to be back after nearly 10 months of living as an overseas graduate student (yes, I also was a migrant!), to meet my family, friends, and colleagues in a familiar environment.
What's more exciting, is that South Korea provides such a dynamic setting for my summer project, because the number of migrants, especially migrant women, is growing rapidly.

One Sunday in Ansan, Gyongi Province, which hosts a major community of migrant workers and is home to many factories. The local government has officially termed this area as "Borderless Village". Note that most migrants out in the streets are male, a stark difference from Hong Kong. It reflects the unique fact that "labor" migrants in South Korea are male-dominated, but also that women are often discouraged from occupying the public space.

Since the early 2000s, international marriages between Korean men and foreign women have rapidly increased, accounting for more than 11% of total marriages as of 2008. Thus, the adjustment of foreign women has become a full-scale policy challenge for South Korea, who has remained a homogeneous society for more than five millenniums. Women who come as marriage migrants are mostly from Southeast Asia and China (and few from former Soviet Union countries), and they experience legal or human rights barriers, as well as difficulties in language, culture, religion, socioeconomic backgrounds.
The government has responded to these challenges by embracing “multiculturalism”. Establishing community centers assisting ‘multicultural’ families that provide language/cultural training, promoting multicultural education, and so on.

But is this sort of top-down multiculturalism sufficient, or effective?
I feel something fundamental is missing, that is, gender-sensitive and empowerment perspective.

"Damunhwa Gil", which means "Multiculture Street", in Ansan. But is multiculturalism achieved by city planning?