"We have suffered for over half a century. That is too much. We firmly believe it is now time to live together with parents, sisters, brothers, all our families, in a reunited, peaceful Korea."
Hyun-Sook Lee is the co-founder and Executive Director of Women Making Peace, a non-governmental organization (NGO) established in 1997 with the goal of creating a culture of peace and reunification on the Korean peninsula. She helped open the door between North and South Korea in the 1990s after half a century of division, by getting the first humanitarian aid to the North and encouraging the first people-to-people visits. She seeks to open the door wider in this century and is challenging those who continue to rattle swords, both in her country and abroad.
Women Making Peace is a multi-dimensional organization that views gender equality, demilitarization, denuclearization, respect for human rights, and the eventual reunification of North and South Korea as several of the necessary steps to making peace a reality. Like the organization she co-founded, Hyun-Sook is a multi-faceted and passionate activist for peace, devoted to building the women`s movement in South Korea. This wife and mother is steadfast in her support of democratization efforts and helps to educate the international community about the plight of the Korean peninsula.
Hyun-Sook was raised in post-WWII Korea in a Confucian society marked by extreme poverty, heightened tension and militarization due to the political division between the North and South. Despite the male dominance in her society, from a young age Hyun-Sook challenged gender roles by using her intelligence and tact to champion important social causes. After graduating from high school, Hyun-Sook enrolled in the Hanshin Theological Seminary where she studied a globally conscious theology that discussed issues concerning politics and international affairs. Intrigued by these topics Hyun-Sook began to consider the presence and impact of such issues within her own community.
Hyun-Sook eagerly pursued opportunities that would allow her to expand her knowledge and expose her to social justice challenges. After earning her masters degree, Hyun-Sook became Chief of the Women's Desk at the Korea Christian Academy. There, she and several colleagues initiated a program aimed at raising awareness and eradicating domestic violence in South Korea. The Korea Women's Hotline she co-founded served as a catalyst for the progressive women's movement in Korea. The revolutionary hotline telephone access allowed victims of domestic abuse to receive guidance and support, and it was instrumental in establishing domestic and sexual violence as criminal acts in South Korea.
After establishing Women Making Peace with her mentor and ex-congresswoman, Lee Woo-Jung, Hyun-Sook Lee immediately began reaching out to the women of North Korea. The first project implemented by Women Making Peace was the "Sharing Food, Sharing Love" campaign, which mobilized civic groups and public support in South Korea, and collected sufficient monetary donations to purchase 26 tons of milk powder to send to the women and children of North Korea. The project, which began in 1997, was one of the first acts of cross-border engagement between the two countries and was instrumental in helping to pave the way for the "Sunshine Policy."
Following the success of the "Sharing Food, Sharing Love" program, Women Making Peace initiated the "North and South Korean Women's Reunification Rally for Peace and the Implementation of the June 15th Joint Declaration.“ For many of the 700 delegates, the opportunity to meet women from the other country in the spirit of peace and tolerance proved to be an extraordinarily emotional experience. In the six years since its inception, Women Making Peace has forged new ground by bringing peace, gender, and reunification issues to the forefront of Korean society. The organization has had significant impact on the social and political culture of South Korea and helped to breakdown psychological and historical barriers on the Peninsula. Hyun-Sook's passion, dedication, and innovation have been driving forces in the success of Women Making Peace.
In addition to her NGO's work in Korea, Hyun-Sook holds government advisory positions and is active in educating the global community. Internationally, she travels to educate students, civilians, scholars, and politicians about the challenges facing the two Koreas, including the effects of U.S. foreign policy on the Peninsula. At home, she is the youngest member of the Presidential Advisory Committee for Reunification and is the Chairperson of the Advisory Committee of the Reunification Ministry.
In May 2003, she organized a coalition of bipartisan Korean elected representatives, NGO leaders, and scholars to come to the US to speak to members of the U.S. Congress and opinion makers on the impact of U.S. withdrawal from engagement with North Korea. Later that year she was invited to participate in the Women's Peacemakers Program of San Diego University’s Joan B. Krock Institute for Peace & Justice. This appointment gave her the opportunity to document her work, have some rest, and learn from the other women peacemakers. December 2003, Hyun-Sook received the prestigious "National Reconciliation Award" from the Korean Council of Reconciliation and Cooperation, made up of leaders from non-governmental organizations and parliamentary members.
Recently she joined the Korean Red Cross and continues her work with social services, humanitarian aid to North Korea, and reuniting separated families in the two Koreas.
Hyun-Sook Lee has witnessed enormous change within the South Korean society during her life. She has been an active participant in parts of the transformation, dedicating her life to improving the lives of those around her. She has encouraged and worked toward creating a culture of peace and opening a way to reunification on the Korean Peninsula, and she has led in advancing the respect of and role of women in her society. The influence of her activities testifies to the power of a committed peacemaker.
Hyun-Sook Lee has over 20 years of experience in human rights and peacemaking. One of her earliest efforts was to work with several colleagues at the Korea Christian Academy to initiate a program to raise awareness and eradicate domestic violence in South Korea. The Korea Women's Hotline enabled victims of domestic abuse to receive guidance and support, and it was instrumental in establishing domestic and sexual violence as criminal acts in South Korea. It also served as a catalyst for the progressive women's movement in Korea.
In 1997, Hyun-Sook initiated and later became the executive director of Women Making Peace. Its first project was a Sharing Food-Sharing Love campaign for North Korean women and children that resulted in the sending of 26 tons of milk powder to the North, and which laid the foundations for North and South Korean exchanges known as the Sunshine Policy. Since 2001, she has engaged in negotiation activities between the two Koreas. And in October 2002, Hyun-Sook finally succeeded in organizing the "North and South Korean Women’s Reunification Rally for Peace and the Implementation of the June 15th Joint Declaration". For many of the 700 delegates, the opportunity to meet women from the other country in a spirit of peace and tolerance proved to be an extraordinarily emotional experience.
In May 2003, Hyun-Sook organized a coalition of bipartisan Korean elected representatives, NGO leaders, and scholars to go to the USA to speak to members of the US Congress and opinion makers on the impact of US withdrawal from engagement with North Korea. In December 2003, Hyun-Sook received the prestigious National Reconciliation Award from the Korean Council of Reconciliation and Cooperation, made up of NGO leaders and members of parliament.
After World War II, Korea was a society marked by poverty, tension, and militarization due to the political division between the North and South. Overcoming traditional gender biases inherent in Korean society, Hyun-Sook Lee is working to bridge that division and effect social change.
Women Making Peace
Council of Unification Education
Global Partnership for Prevention of Armed Conflict, Northeast Asia Region (GPPAC)
Eastern Asia | Republic of Korea