“See, think, act!”
Maria Chol Soon Rhie has dedicated her life to social work ever since graduating from high school in the early 1970s. She spent the next 15 years as a grassroots organizer, educator, and advocate for women’s and human rights, eventually earning a university degree in social work. Since then she has led several workers’ organizations and has founded two others: the Women’s Unemployment Center and the Women’s Trade Union. She also serves on the executive committee of the Committee for Asian Women. Her dedication has earned her the respect of workers all over the world.
Early in her life Maria spent two years working in a factory where she learned firsthand about the challenges facing women workers in Korea. After she became friends with her coworkers, Maria helped them form a small social group where they talked over many of the issues confronting Korean society. As membership grew, the group expanded its focus and developed into an organization that successfully advocated for improved working conditions for women. Maria became further involved in workers’ rights after the 1997 economic crisis in Korea. Although women were one of the groups most affected by the crisis, public attention focused only on the problems of unemployed men. To help the women and to draw attention to their situation, Maria started an unemployment center for women. Maria’s commitment to women workers has had far-reaching effects. She inspired women to become leaders in the Korean labor movement, encouraged women who were in night school to become activists, and helped to raise awareness among the general public of women’s issues. While she was chairperson of the Korean Women Workers Associations United (KWWAU), the organization grew dramatically and became a strong advocate for social and legal change. KWWAU received a special award from the government in 1999 for its role in working toward gender equality in Korean society. Maria also began a women’s trade union, and more recently, a training organization. Moreover, her activities have not been confined to Korea. After spending 15 years as an organizer in Korea, she began working with the Committee for Asian Women (CAW) and serves on its executive committee. The CAW seeks to support activities of grassroots women’s groups, to mobilize women workers’ movements in Asian countries, and to promote international solidarity among women workers.
Committee for Asian Women (CAW) Korean Women Workers Associations United (KWWAU) Action Center for Women’s Unemployment
Eastern Asia | Republic of Korea