Teresa Kim Sun-shil, former president of the Korean Catholic Women's Community for a New World
Today we are celebrating what is the 100th International Women's Day, an annual celebration that began when women took to the streets a century ago to demand better pay, working conditions and the right to vote.
Korea has also observed this special day since 1985. Commemorating this day, progressive women’s groups have not only raised issues facing women and made resolutions to overcome them, they have also encouraged themselves by staging various cultural activities.
Looking back over the past 20 years, women’s rights in Korean society have improved remarkably. Various women's groups have made a stand and seen results such as the abolition of the patriarchal family system and its related laws.
The level of Korean women's education has also improved giving them better opportunities in many fields.
However, the role of women in the Church remains unchanged.
During the fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, the subject of “women’s ministry” came under active discussion. Realizing the Church needed policies to care for women, ministry for women was introduced as an independent Church entity.
For this, the Korean Catholic Women's Community for a New World, who I work for, and the Catholic lay-run Woori Theology Institute jointly conducted a survey among Catholic women and suggested several proposals for women’s ministry based on the survey results.
Primarily, we proposed the establishment of a women's desk under the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea (CBCK) to improve Catholic women’s awareness in education, Church law and to gather their opinion and have them reflected in Church policies.
Second, we demanded a quota of at least 20 per cent women on parish pastoral councils.
Third, we proposed that the local Church introduce measures to guarantee and increase the role of women within its fold.
Fourth, we asked the Church to promote gender equality in all education curricula and text books. With this, textbooks for catechumen, Sunday school and Bible studies, catechism for adults and seminary curricula should all portray a positive view on women.
We also asked seminaries to employ women theologians to teach seminarians about women's views on theology.
Finally, we asked the Church not to discriminate against women workers with regard to promotion, wages and working conditions.
For these proposals to be realized we promoted them through various channels such as the CBCK, Church media and the Asian Synod. Early success came in June, 2001, when the CBCK introduced the subcommittee for women under the Committee for the Lay Apostolate.
However, women’s committees have not been established at diocesan level. Therefore, the subcommittee has no network extending to dioceses and parishes.
For the women’s subcommittee to function more effectively, every diocese should establish its own committee for women, as well as each parish. This will enable the CBCK, dioceses and parishes to gather opinions from Catholic women more efficiently, and reflect upon and implement them better.
Also, our second proposal for a quota of women on parish pastoral councils has not yet been adopted. Even recent synods in Incheon diocese and Seoul archdiocese did not clearly state any intentions on this.
Moreover, our other proposals have yet to bear fruit.
Apart from these, we also have many other issues to address, like the formation of women leaders, increasing variety in education for Catholic women and promoting solidarity with women of other religions.
In the end, we still have a long way to go. What we have achieved so far seems like the first step towards reaching our goal.
Nevertheless, making the first step is a stepping stone and we need to ceaselessly arouse support inside the Church to put our proposals into practice. This is our role.
Since it is still a long road, we should take a deep breath and move forward in solidarity with other women and with the help of wisdom from the Holy Spirit.
I would therefore like to pin the hope s of this "new millennium" onto our women again.
Teresa Kim Sun-shil is the former president of the Korean Catholic Women's Community for a New World and a committee member of the Miriam Center for Migrant Women.