One of the most common stories adoptees hear from their parents goes something like this:
“Why was I adopted?”
“Well, honey, your birthmother was young and unmarried, and in Korea it’s really hard for single mothers to raise their children, so she sent you to us, because she thought you’d have a better life here.”
Deconstructing this story, of what a “better life” means is another post. What I want to explore are the efforts in Korea to de-stigmatize single mothers (and it really is single mothers…women bear the brunt of parenting responsibilities in Korea). TRACK, along with several other organizations in Korea, are hosting the first International Conference for Single Mothers Day next Wednesday, May 11th.
This is huge.
Adoptees and unwed mothers are grouping together to share a new voice in the conversation of international adoption, challenging the cultural norms of parenthood and what it means to be a woman and mother in contemporary Korean culture. Although single parents are rare in Korea, and unwed mothers face incredible challenges and opposition as they advocate for their right to raise their children, there is a growing movement to support women who choose to parent their children rather than place them for domestic or international adoption.
The Korean Women’s Development Institute recently published a report, How to Improve Government Welfare Services for Low-Income Unwed Mothers in Korea. One of the things I found most interesting was that in fact many of these unwed mothers are older, not teens. The fact that a 35 year old woman, whether a professional or not, still faces opposition to raise her own child if she desires speaks to the deep need for a paradigm-shift. But this has to come from within. I don’t think we can just export western feminist ideals and expect change to happen instantaneously, which is why I’m so thrilled that groups like KUMFA, TRACK, Korean Single Parent Association and KoRoot are working together on this.
It’s a radical shift in thinking and practice, and I’m intrigued to learn more about it this Friday. Choi Hyung-Sook, of KUMFA, will be at the panel via video this Friday, and KUMFA is a sponsor of the conference in Korea. One of my research interests is in the cultural flow of social work practices between the US and Korea, and how it impacts social welfare practice in Korea, in particular as it relates to services for single/unwed mothers. Lucky for me, it looks like there’s a strong movement that’s already begun to address this issue.