THE EARTH TIMES
APRIL 15 -30, 1996
Soon-Young Yoon: Gender issues, global ties
By Ashali Varma
Looking back at the Fourth World Conference on Women, last September in China, Soon-Young Yoon believes that Beijing achieved more than other UN-sponsored conferences because of the involvement of the sheer number of women from all the major regions of the world. Even women who did not make it to the Conference nonetheless had contributed to the process, Yoon—who was one of the organizers of the NGO Forum at the Conference—says.
“At the last Preparatory Committee meetings in March 1995, the NGO Forum coordinated the first global amendment document,” Yoon said. “We brought together 35 individuals from all the five regions and the international networks. The editing committee merged the regional documents with the documents from international NGOs and we used that to lobby the delegates. The Women’s Environment and Development Organization, the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, the Human Rights Caucus—all joined in.”
Yoon was the UN liaison for the NGO Forum on Women and helped coordinate all the NGO Forum activity for input into the Platform for Action.
For Yoon—an anthropologist—the Beijing process is more than just another technical effort associated with a major World Conference: it is an involvement with women’s causes that comes from being the third generation in a family that has been actively involved in furthering women’s rights. “My grandfather was very involved with the anti-colonial movement in Korea and with women’s rights,” she said “My mother and my aunt were among the first women to be sent abroad to study from Korea. My grandfather believed in equal opportunity for women,” Yoon said.
Yoon worked in the UN Secretarial and the Second World Conference on Women, held in Copenhagen in 1980. But, for her Beijing was where women really got heard “NGOs said that 60 to 70 percent of what they had wanted was in the Platform for Action,” Yoon said.
“Beijing had many ripples, it went much further than we had ever expected. This was largely due to the preparations that had gone on beforehand,” Yoon said, adding “For instance, the Palestinian camps had local and regional meetings until all the women’s groups in all the camps had given in their recommendations to their representatives. This also happened in villages in Uganda and in Indonesia, just to name a few.”
As far as UN Conferences go, Yoon felt it was Maurice F. Strong who showed the way when he talked of the Rio process and involved the many different sectors of civil society. Strong was Secretary General of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (and is chair of The Earth Times Advisory Council).
“Beijing managed to do the same thing, so after the Conference we still have the process and the involvement,” Yoon said.
She feels it is very important for NGOs to make governments accountable in implementing the commitments they made at Beijing. She also feels that in the post Beijing process, the women’s movement has to re-examine its role because it has changed from being a victim to having a vision for all of civil society.
“Women NGOs have to be given legal support in many countries. And more women who have been involved in issues of gender equality should be given the chance to have leadership positions in the government,” Yoon said.
Recently Yoon has been involved in helping to organize an exhibit on women in arts and culture, entitled “Global Focus,” which opened in Washington, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, on March 20 and is on till April 21.
Yoon is involved in a writing project on the international women’s movement. It will have a cross cultural and historical perspective: “I am thinking of it as a Web Site book. It would reach many people and would be good for international dialogue.”