Feminist activism in Korea during fall 2018 highlighted the necessity of economic and social independence and has been increasingly emphasized among Korean women ever since. Along with this, many underlying gender issues arising in the Korean society have been put under scrutiny.
Since then, lots of content and businesses covering how women in modern society can enhance and maintain their financial and social well-being were introduced on many different platforms.
Taking an extraordinary approach to contribute to the promotion of women’s rights in 2018, Lee Hyun-suk established Here-gong Cooperatives. This opened and gave women opportunities to educate themselves and learn new things through technical education classes. Lee built on her already learned techniques from home repairs to welding to help women make strides in their own lives.
According to Here-gong Cooperatives, the company aims to promote independence, sustainability, and the diversity of society – focusing on women and their daily lives.
Throughout her own education, Lee was often subject to stereotypical comments such as: “What is a young woman like yourself even doing in classes like these?” or “There is no use for women taking such classes.” This inspired her to promote and provide women with technical education.
“Individuals have no choice but to always consume or purchase things,” Lee said. “I opposed that kind of lifestyle which is full of consumption and thought that we need a new sense of repairing or producing things by ourselves. But, it was then when I realized that women are removed from those basic techniques.”
Along with gender differences in basic techniques for repair and production, Lee came across gender discrimination in many of the classes that she had taken to learn new skills that revolved around repairing or producing goods.
“I witnessed in classes where the instructors made sexist or sexually-harassing remarks and also objectified the female students,” Lee said.
This drove Lee to create an environment where none of those issues existed and a place where women could learn new skills without the burden of traditional gender stereotypes. This also paved way for classes to ensure that participants would learn at their own pace without any added pressure.
“We do not push students to carry out the tasks like professionals or fully acquire the skills right away,” Lee said. “To ensure that everyone develops a positive technique in classes, we let the students form their practice teams only in pairs so that hierarchical culture does not develop in classes and allows them to respect each other by avoiding the use of discriminatory language.”
In all their classes, Here-gong Cooperatives is also attempting to build on ideas such as low- waste and sustainability, for example, reusing all wood waste and providing vegan food options. According to Lee, this promotes lifestyles that are independent, diverse and respect the environment.
As important as enhancing the social and economic independence of women are, Lee believes that this type of technical education for women should also be something that all women should have equal opportunity to partake in. In acquiring these new skills, Lee says that this fosters a sense of empowerment for women where knowing that the ability to fix things with your own hands is possible.
“A lot of women in the society become passive and ask men for help when it comes to fixing and building equipment at home,” Lee said. “However, through technical education, individuals can discover the potential in themselves by being an independent person who actively makes decisions and changes.”