Women’s Role in Social Transformation

Global Peace Foundation
September 30, 2014
Global Peace Women Leadership Conference
September, 2014
Seoul, Korea

Good morning.

It is so wonderful to be here amongst such great leaders and great women.

It is even more empowering to be amongst women of faith who are working to advance the vision of One Family under God and who understand this cannot be realized without the work and contribution of the women of the world.

I would like to especially acknowledge our guests of honor who have joined us today. H.E. Congresswoman Jasmine Lee, President Seonja Gye, Dr. Nona S. Ricafort, Professor Hwagyeong Jang, and Dr. Diann Dawson. Today we have representatives gathered from two special nations, Korea and the Philippines, two nations where it is natural to look to each of you as my “ates” and “titas”, as my “onni” or to see myself as your onni. We come from nations with strong spiritual traditions with family at the core. We both belong to cultures where the family is the root of community and the nation and where, in turn, the entire nation can be seen as an extended family.

To all of you I say 안녕하세요, 반갑습니다, and Magandang umaga, Maligayang pagdating. A warm welcome to you all.

This Global Peace Women’s Leadership Conference is a timely gathering that coincides with many other prestigious leadership conferences taking place around the world. Early this year GPF Paraguay hosted a ground-breaking symposium between Korea and Paraguay. GPF-USA just concluded their Global Peace Leadership Conference on the spiritual renewal of the nation. In a few days GPF-Korea will convene a Leadership Conference on a vision for Korean unification, here in Seoul. Later this year we will have interfaith forums in Northern Ireland and India and our annual Convention in Paraguay. In all of these, the insights, contributions, and best practices that women leaders share will be a significant part of advancing the work of the Global Peace Foundation.

The Growing Phenomenon of Family Breakdown Despite Global Recognition of its Importance 

The theme of today’s conference is “Women’s Leadership in Social Transformation Through Family Values.” I think we can all agree that family is the cornerstone of society, and that strengthening families is an essential element of building healthy societies, nations and a prosperous, ethical world. This was echoed by every key speaker during the observance of the 20th anniversary of the International Year of the Family at the recent convening of the United Nations’ Commission for Social Development.

Similarly, government agencies, NGOs and local communities recognize the central role of family in their approaches to alleviate poverty and improve access to education and health care. Yet, despite the recognition of the importance of family, there is an alarming global trend of family breakdown, resulting in a noticeable decline in the moral standards, economic well-being, and quality of life of families and youth.

Despite the recognition of the importance of family, there is an alarming global trend of family breakdown, resulting in a noticeable decline in the moral standards, economic well-being, and quality of life of families and youth.

In my view, too many of the global discussions on the family have not addressed the root issues of family breakdown. Rather they have sought to form Band-Aid solutions for the social problems that have resulted. Even more seriously, I see a growing acceptance of the deterioration of the traditional family and increasing pressure for a redefinition of the family itself. In these circumstances, I believe it is essential to understand and examine the family ideals expressed in faith traditions and traditional cultures throughout the world, and the ethos and values they promote.

The Importance and Role of Family

My husband often says that any great transformative movement must start with spiritual aspirations, principles, and values. The Global Peace Foundation promotes the profound vision of building One Family under God. It recognizes that “family” is fundamental to the meaning and fulfillment of that dream. It is at the essence of what all people cherish and the foundation of forming just, ethical, cohesive and prosperous societies. Men and women, who can govern themselves in accordance to their conscience and live for the sake of the well-being of others, are virtuous individuals of character. It will be these virtuous men and women form strong, healthy families and contribute to the greater society, nation and to their world. The starting point for raising such individuals is the family.

The family is the “school of love and virtue” in which the character and heart of each individual is formed at the deepest level. Faith is first put into practice as values and lived out as virtues at home. It is also the foundation for meeting the physical and spiritual needs of people. Every child comes to know his or her intrinsic value through the unconditional love of parents. A child’s basic notions of security, comfort, love, empathy, self-sacrifice, self-esteem and responsibility are nurtured in the home.

Korea developed the tradition of the extended family to a high degree. At the core of its cultural heritage was the concept of Hongik Ingan, which taught that the Korean people should live for the benefit of all humanity.

Human beings are relational beings that find the deepest fulfillment in relation to others. Family defines the most intimate relationships, especially the most sacred relationship between a man and woman through which new life is formed in that love. Experience in the family forms the foundation for how every person sees and interacts with the rest of the world. Relations within the family, between husband and wife, parents and children, and among siblings are instrumental for developing the virtues that underlie all positive social relations.

I want to share some of the benefits of the extended family model. My husband writes extensively about this in his newly published book, “The Korean Dream: A Vision for a Unified Korea.”

Korea, in its history, developed the tradition of the extended family to a high degree. At the core of its cultural heritage was the concept of Hongik Ingan, which taught that the Korean people should live for the benefit of all humanity. This heritage was cultivated and passed down naturally in the home, nurturing at its heart a deeply spiritually tradition of self-sacrifice and love.

The relationships and virtues learned within the extended family are expanded to the larger society. This is expressed in the way Koreans address those we relate to in familial terms — as elder brother, elder sister, aunts, uncles, mothers, and fathers. Every role in society is built from the family blueprint, especially the deepest relationship between the parent and child: from the teacher-student relationship in school to the relationship between the government and its people.

In the context of extended family, marriage is not only the concern of just two people. It is the bonding of two families into the lineage that continues through their children. Newly married couples and young families have elders who can serve as ready counselors, offering their advice and example. Other dimensions come to life in the extended family.

As the family connects past, present and future generations, lineage, tradition and heritage become important. One learns about one’s identity, culture, traditions, and norms in an environment of love. Children learn to respect, honor and care for the elder generations as they watch their parents attend the grandparents and prior generations. The elders can pass on their wisdom to the next generation who carry on the dreams and lifelong work of the previous generation. Furthermore, the extended family provides a natural setting to learn through relationships formed through its plethora of personalities and generations. Individuals learn how to fulfill the responsibilities of their unique roles, learn to think beyond themselves and their individual desires, and learn that they are part of a web of relationships to which they contribute something unique and beautiful.

The extended family environment helps to shape the habits of heart that prepare people to relate with the diversity of the human family. Within this environment of love, a child naturally comes to understand his or her cultural heritage and traditions. In such a family, children naturally inherit a lifestyle of living for others as they have to consider the many relatives around them and as they watch their parents and grandparents live for the sake of their communities, nations and world. Such an environment will nurture children with an altruistic worldview who become global ethical citizens, actively engaged in improving the human condition.

The Loss of Family Values and Consequences of the Deterioration of the Family

The essence of the values formed within strong families and especially the extended family is the culture of service, living for others and living for the greater good. The family was to become the natural learning ground of such a lifestyle and the individuals raised in such families were to carry that culture out to the world. Today we see self-centered individualism fueling a culture of materialism, consumerism, hedonism, and a selfish mindset that only one’s own happiness matters. This destructive culture has been the crux of the breakdown of family and consequentially the deterioration of even the most basic human relationships. Today we are witnessing an increase in divorce rates, infidelity, out-of-wedlock births and fatherless families, heinous sex crimes, and countless other issues.

It is our conviction that these family ideals are not determined by our circumstances nor should be limited due by humanity’s shortcomings or setbacks thus far, but are grounded in essential principles expressed in our various faith traditions. It is our mission to continually strive to achieve and uphold those spiritual aspirations and move our world toward a family ideal characterized by the deepest unconditional love and nurture. 

Because the state of the family impacts the greater society, the issue of family breakdown is very much a matter of public concern, not something that can be relegated to a private sphere. Study after study has linked a range of social problems directly to the breakdown of the family and a troubled home environment. More and more young couples are choosing to co-habitate without committing to marriage and family. More seriously, we are seeing the impact on the next generation. Children are left traumatized by divorce or seeing violence in the home. Child abuse and exploitation have become a global concern, while more children are being removed by the state from unfit parents. Teen pregnancies and abandoned children add to the list of woes. At the other end of the age spectrum, the situation of the elderly has become dire in certain societies. Japan, for example, is seeing the phenomenon of elders living alone and dying in solitude, rather than surrounded by the love and care of their children and grandchildren. This same phenomenon is beginning to appear in Korea too.

Changing family patterns also affect the ability of government to function. In many developed nations, the growing financial burden on the government, faced with shrinking birth rates and a growing retired population that it has to provide for, is becoming unsustainable. I am certainly not proposing that we turn back the clock to a time when women were treated unequally with discrimination, and their dignity, value and role not appreciated, respected and honored. We live in a world that is still far from the ideal, with many serious issues yet to resolve. Our hearts can only have compassion for those women who have suffered domestic violence, infidelity, or other serious situations that may have led them to divorce and life as a single parent.

There is a huge and tragic gap between the ideals that encompass the purpose, values, and role of the family, and the actual experience and reality of family relationships. Global Peace Women is committed to uplift the family ideal, beyond the present reality and efforts to negate or undermine those ideals. It is our conviction that these family ideals are not determined by our circumstances nor should be limited due by humanity’s shortcomings or setbacks thus far, but are grounded in essential principles expressed in our various faith traditions. It is our mission to continually strive to achieve and uphold those spiritual aspirations and move our world toward a family ideal characterized by the deepest unconditional love and nurture.

The Role of Women in New Models of National Transformation

There has been much talk about women empowerment and women’s rights, and indeed there has been pivotal progress made to recognize the need to secure the safety, advancement and voice of women. Today women can discover a cure to a sickness, serve the world in an NGO, lead as a CEO of a global enterprise, or in countless other ways use their hearts, creative minds, and skills to better the human condition. I am an advocate for finding more ways to provide our girls and our women more of such opportunities. At the same time, I believe we must not lose sight of the true value of women. Our value is not determined by career advancement or financial success, nor by political power or social status. And most certainly, the value of women is not determined in comparison to or in competition with men or by putting down men. I do not want to do so to my father, my husband, my sons, or my grandsons. Likewise, I will not do so to the men of this world.

As spiritual women we should look to our great faith traditions and lead a spiritual movement that will uplift the dignity, value, and qualities of both men and women. 

The problems of the world, and issues that are faced in particular by women and girls, cannot be resolved by looking to make men and women the same structurally, ignoring physiological differences and the unique qualities each were endowed with by our Creator.

Within the family there are mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. Together men and women create the whole family, and likewise, men and women create our human family. Within a family, men and women are different but complementary. We need each other and have what the other needs and wants. We are designed differently with different faculties through which we process and view the world. Parenthood is the most precious vocation every man and woman can part take in together as we invest in and raise the most precious treasure we bring into this world, our sons and daughters. Likewise, the solution to the family has to be spiritual in its nature as well because human beings are not simply bundles of physical needs.

Human beings are relational, and thus need to love and be loved, and need to feel valued. The love, security, support and education that comes from the family and the vast network of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and relatives of the extended family can never be replaced by a day care or senior care institution. Every human being has a spiritual nature and has intrinsic value. Understanding this fundamental truth is the starting point for creating holistic solutions to reverse the current trends of deteriorating families and societies.

Women are the ones who will give birth and be the mothers to our children. We are the caring sisters to our siblings and wives to our husbands. Women are naturally the doctors, educators and caretakers within the family, and they become the glue that holds the family together and connects it to the larger community to address common needs and concerns. As women take up their essential roles within the family, their role naturally expands to the community, nation, and world, because they are raising the next generation and people who will become contributors to the community, nation and world.

The Gramene Bank founded by Muhammad Yunus recorded in its 2012 Annual Report that 96.19% of the recipients of micro loans were given to women. These women, with even a tiny investment, find ways to improve the situations of their children and families. There are countless examples of women purchasing reeds to weave baskets or seeds to plant crop to sell at the market. This additional income has resulted in better food, clothing, and education for their children.

Some of the efforts of the Global Peace Foundation have also seen similar effects. The All-Lights Village Project for example, has provided a comprehensive solution using solar lights that save money from kerosene bought for oil lamps, alleviating the health issues caused by kerosene fumes, and has created more flexibility with time and money that yields new opportunities for education and economic development. Another program in the Philippines, GlobALS, has focused on implementing an alternative learning system for underserved populations in even the most remote villages. Linking the All-Lights Village Project with the GlobALS program has created even greater impact.

In Uganda and Nepal, Global Peace Women is actively involved in the Clean Cookstoves initiative, drastically reducing health related problems including fatalities related to indoor smoke inhaled by mothers and young children. Because the Clean Cookstoves use a fraction of firewood, women spend less time collecting firewood and have more time for education, sanitization, and economic development projects. Consequentially, incidents of rape and harm women face as they spend hours gathering firewood has lessened. Women leaders are the drivers of many of these initiatives, and women are targets of these projects in local communities because they often are the hubs of development there. We women want our children to become people of good moral character. We are the natural guardians of virtue in the home and strong values in the community. For this reason, we have strong concerns when donor countries, in the guise of promoting development, actually impose secular cultural attitudes that undermine traditional values particularly those related to the family.

We can be the drivers of a spiritual women’s movement that creates a new model of development that not only advances economic development but also respects and honors moral values and the family tradition. 

We can be the drivers of a spiritual women’s movement that creates a new model of development that not only advances economic development but also respects and honors moral values and the family tradition. The Global Peace Foundation has made it a priority to develop such models on several continents.

In Paraguay, recently a groundbreaking public-private partnership was forged with great hopes to build Paraguay into a regional hub of manufacturing, heavy industries, distribution, and services. But this took many years of the work of the Global Peace Foundation to first address issues of social corruption and political instability. There was much work with the youth, women, and political, civic, and business leaders to put as priority the moral and ethical framework for the nation and define the aspirations, principles and values that would guide the nation’s development.

In Paraguay the role of the Global Peace Women has been critical. I urge that we put our hearts and minds together, put our nations at the frontline as well to build these new models of development built on sound spiritual values. Closing The Global Peace Foundation is promoting a model of national transformation that believes successful economic development can only take place on a solid spiritual and moral foundation. It begins with a vision, principles, and values that are then given practical expression through a range of projects, including character and leadership education, volunteerism and service, and strengthening families and communities. These create a foundation of social and political stability that can sustain equitable development. These also provide the basis to resolve long-standing identity-based conflict and regional tensions and move toward peace and social cohesion in a diverse world.

Strong, healthy, vibrant families are an essential foundation for all of Global Peace Foundation’s work and women play a central role. Just as in the family a woman tries to cultivate in her children the qualities of character that will help them become responsible citizens, so in the community, women, working together, can promote the values and practices that create a vibrant and just society. I hope through our dialogue and discourse at this conference we can share our experiences and our expertise. I trust we can clarify the unique role that women have to play in the process of social and national transformation. And that we can develop plans for practical initiatives that will contribute to our success in that role.

Thank you for your dedication and support for making this conference a success and may God bless you and your families.

Maraming salamat, Mabuhay po kayo! 감사합니다. Thank you very much.

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