Last night, I had the privilege of attending a workshop that was hosted by Disruptive Voices, an organization in Korea that, according to their Facebook page, “ . . . is a community of people who desire, demand, and aim to speak for change and empowerment”. My interest in the event was primarily related to the topic of the evening, KUMFA, or the Korean Unwed Mothers Families Association.
KUMFA is an organization of people who advocate for the rights of unwed mothers and their kids. The association is on a mission to empower unwed single mothers in Korea. KUMFA does this by promoting awareness around the issues that unwed single moms face and by creating social support systems that are accessible to the moms and their kids. Through their work, KUMFA seeks to help unwed single moms keep and raise their children should they so desire.
The event included a presentation from the director of KUMFA, Mok Kyeong Hwa, about the organization’s mission, history, and activities. There was also a panel of several women who shared their experiences as unwed single mothers in Korea. The workshop closed with an opportunity to get into small breakout groups where a member of KUMFA was available to engage in a question and answer type discussion with each group.
I learned from the workshop that unwed single mothers face barriers on three fronts, from their family, in their education, and in their career. The stigma of being an unwed single mother brings shame not only on yourself, but also upon your family. An entire family will likely feel ostracization as a result of their unmarried daughter’s pregnancy, and society may blame the parents of the unwed single mother for not properly raising their daughter. I know adoptees who have reunited with their families of origin and found out that they were secretly put up for adoption by their grandparents, without their mothers’ knowledge. The shame runs that deep.
In regard to education and career, the reality of raising children with no family or social support often means that educational pursuits of the mother are put on the far back burner. The shame of your status as an unwed single mother likely means you will have trouble becoming or staying employed, and you won’t have any time to pursue an education, further damaging one’s ability to survive with her children in Korea.
KUMFA is doing things to fight back against the social stigma of being an unwed single mother. I witnessed it. The women who shared their stories last night are doing this. KUMFA also provides educational classes for parents, operates a short-term emergency shelter for unwed single mothers and their children, and participates in policy development that addresses the discrimination the mothers face.
It was very powerful as an adoptee to be there listening to their stories. I can’t help but imagine how potentially different my life could have been had KUMFA existed in 1985 when my eomma, pregnant with me, found herself in a false dilemma. As I sat and talked with two other adoptees and an unwed single mom not much older than me today, it was clear that we sat in solidarity with one another. We share the same vision of a Korean society that makes space for unwed single mothers and their children.