Christine Lagarde, the first female Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), visited Ewha on Sept. 7 to learn about the history of women’s education in Korea and interact with future international leaders.
Lagarde began her tour at Ewha’s History Archives to learn about Ewha’s history and values. She particularly complimented how Ewha’s three major principles, knowledge, wisdom and truth, are all very critical in the current international society.
“The three main motives of Ewha encapsulate a very important matter at the moment,” Lagarde said. “At times when fake news and distorted realities are frequently displayed, to be educated and grow up in an environment where knowledge, wisdom and truth is highly valued is a sign of major advancement and enlightenment.”
Lagarde particularly empathized with Ewha’s historical milestone as Korea’s first educational institution for women.
“For me, ‘major enhancement’ is a big word – coming from France, where there was a definite period of breakthrough and innovation,” Lagarde agreed. “I was most impressed by the journey Ewha has gone through since 1886 and by the major achievements that emphasize excellence displayed by extraordinary women.”
Lagarde then proceeded to meet the heads of the Graduate School of International Studies (GSIS) and Office of International Affairs (OIA). She also attended a student debate on the current state and future of the Korean education system and the role women should play in it.
Over 150 students participated, with eight student representatives on the panel. Professor Sohn Jie-ae from GSIS chaired the debate.
Despite her tight schedule in Korea, Lagarde said that she specifically chose to visit Ewha because she wanted to learn about future women leaders’ experiences of contemporary Korea. As Managing Director of the IMF, an organization consisting of 189 nations, Lagarde has been around the globe, always making an effort to meet with students, particularly female students.
“There are two things I always want to do when I visit countries around the world,” Lagarde started, “Number one is to see students. Number two is to see women. And guess what? I came to Ewha.”
Emphasizing how impressed she was by the students’ efforts to improve their understanding of the world with their various talents and contributions, Lagarde asked the audience to actively speak of their concerns.
Students revealed the difficulties women in Korea face due to society’s strict gender stereotypes. They mentioned how Korean women have to choose between a professional life or a marriage, but cannot pursue both. Especially once a woman is married and has children, that the glass ceiling becomes more difficult to penetrate.
By reflecting on her own accomplished career and balanced domestic life, Lagarde revealed that she too had concerns about balancing many aspects of her life as a woman.
“I did not balance my professional career and domestic life to perfection,” Lagarde said. “I don’t think it is easy to do so perfectly, but I have to tell you that it is feasible. I often say that you can have it all – marriage, children, and professional life – but you can’t have it all at the same time. You must have patience. Value each and every one of those dimensions for what they are.”
Towards the end of the debate, Lagarde focused on women’s low rates of societal participation postgraduation. She used France as an example, where President Macron played a critical role in establishing an equal gender ratio in parliament.
“I don’t think there is a reason why any gender quota should not ultimately be 50 percent, because that is how society is balanced.” Lagarde stated. “Women don’t deprive other women or men who are already in the field. Rather, women joining the workforce means more enrichment and improvement. There are a lot of studies that show how much additional growth could be generated if women join the workforce.”
When questioned how she overcame the glass ceiling, Lagarde chuckled and said, “Well, I broke it.” Lagarde’s confident and positive outlook on the power of women was highlighted as she ended on a positive note: that gender equality is a constant battle that women are aware of and participating in.
Lagarde finished her visit at Ewha with a group photo with the audience and panel in front of the Ewha Campus Complex (ECC) stairway. She reassured the students that she would promote women’s participation in the Korean society.
“I am meeting your president on Monday,” Lagarde said, “I will request that he makes the women quota at least 30 percent and to keep involving women.”