Thursday, October 1, 2009

Photo - River

Photo of people forming a virtual river against skyscrapers

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Survey at Last!

After weeks of toil, I've finally put together a survey that will ask teenagers, girls and boys alike, about their experiences during the candlelit protests. Among others, I will ask the following

*What led them to participate in the protests, and how do they assess their actions one year on?

*How have they used off and online resources to reach out to their peers and a broader audience?

*How different have they become as political actors?

I've also teamed up with some of the best people in the field - the sociologists at Korea University, who have already done extensive research into the subject of youth and politics. While their focus hasn't been on gender, they've recently realized they need to look more into the aspect and were excited to find me working on essentially the same subject!

As of this morning, the survey's delivered to a carefully selected group of some 100 teenagers - more will follow. I can't wait for the results - which will come by early next week!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Roh Moo-hyun and Return of Candle Girls

I was not prepared to see the candle girls back so soon. Here they were, handing out flyers and volunteering at the funeral. In anti-government rallies they also took the front line. Again, there were visibly more girls in rallies than boys. 

Korea has been in deep mourning over the death of a former president, Roh Moo-hyun. The girls, who led the political movement against his successor, president Lee, last year were back in the streets, honoring the deceased. On May 23rd, Roh leapt to his death from a cliff in his hometown. He was being investigated for bribery charges, which most Koreans believe was politically motivated.

Unlike in the West, where suicide carries social stigma, Roh's death was seen as an act of self-sacrifice - putting an end to the most dynamic, progressive and anti-authoritarian leadership East Asia has ever seen.

Roh was a maverick from start to finish. He was a successful tax lawyer in the late 1970s when encountered the plight of student activists who were tortured. His transition to a human rights lawyer, and later as a progressive political leader didn't bode well for his political future, for he hailed from one of the most conservative regions in the U.S. A Howard Dean born in Texas is what he was.

A candidate no one seriously considered one year before, Roh was elected president in 2002. Central was the Nosamo, his online supporter group extremely well organized and which forms a virtual caucus in opposition politics to this date.

Roh was arguably the most internet-savvy president the world ever saw. Roh designed political organization software in his spare time. As president, he spearheaded the design of the presidential office’s electronic system. Pity the poor developers who had to discuss the platform with the incumbent president!!! To the dismay of the press office, Roh read much of what citizens had to say on the Chong Wa Dae website, and would reply real time, enabling citizens to keep track of what time he went to bed at night. (This article showcases the scope of Roh’s online activies 

He was anti-authoritarian to a fault. When a group of prosecutors protested the president's efforts to reform the judiciary, he invited them for a group debate, which was televised live (which consequently proved in front of the nation how logically weak the prosecutors were when it comes to discussing their own privileges). He made his own coffee. He appointed a young but extremely capable woman, Kang Geum-shil, as the justice minister. Mind you, this is not in Scandinavia but in Korea, where less than three percent of the lawmakers were women.

My hypothesis is that some of the heightened self-esteem and political confidence of today's teenage girls comes from having grown up in the Roh Moo-hyun era, where a high number of important women in politics definitely sent a message. While browsing through statistics on women's political participation, I noticed that Chile was one of the handful of countries where young women's political ambitions surpassed that of men. The credit, of course, goes to President Bachelet. I believe something similar was going on in Korea from 2003 to 2007.

When I decided to spend the summer conducting research on the candlelit protests of teenage girls, I was thinking of the girls in the past tense. Although there was definitely a social and political context to the movement they led, I suspected it would metamorphose into something different, and that we would not see something as dynamic and drastic again for some time. 

How wrong I was. Ever since Roh died, the girls have again become the leading force in honoring what they deemed was an honorable man. Lee Yun-gyeong, an 18-year-old senior who came to the funeral ceremony in Seoul City Plaza, summed up the situation as such: "The boys don't react much to Roh's death, they'd rather talk about sports or games. The girls, on the other hand, are discussing the political impact of Roh's death over lunch and where our nation will go."

Lee Chang-ho, a youth expert, supports my view that the girls have undergone political baptism last year. "I thought the girls led the movement last year because it was triggered by health issues (which women are more sensitive to), but it seems I was wrong. They've definitely matured politically."

To say the least, I am enchanted by the feat of young girls growing up in one of Asia's most conservative cultures insisting on traditional gender roles. I'm now in the process of designing my questionnaire and getting the best possible sample for the interviews - which has not been easy due to reluctance from school authorities and of course, the government.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Candle Girls in Korea!

Imagine teenage girls starting protests that becomes a nationwide movement. That is what happened in spring of 2008, where hundreds of girls launched one of the most successful campaigns against the government's policies by organizing massive candlelit protests.

I will spend this summer looking into the "Candle Girls" of Korea, to see how new media is empowering young women to become political actors. I will be interviewing the girls and analyzing data, to see what prompted such change, and what lessons we can come up for women and politics in the future. It will be supported by generous funds of Nancy Klavans Cultural Bridge Fellowship from the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard Kennedy School.