The Story of Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Geum-Soon Yoon, A Woman Farmer

Official image of the Korean Women's Peasant AssociationThe NextWomen October Sustainability & Clean Tech Theme.

Geum-Soon Yoon, President of the Korean Women's Peasant Association (KWPA), has been a pioneer in a time and culture that has traditionally not given a voice to women or farmers – let alone a woman farmer. This week, the KWPA won the prestigious Food Sovereignty award.

Geum-Soon Yoon and KWPA fight in the name of South Korean peasants. They have made their mark not only on the rice fields, but their courage has seen them lobby at the World Trade Organization and contribute to free trade agreements with the USA and EU. In 2005, Geum-Soon Yoon was one of the 1000 women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Geum-Soon Yoon experienced the times when South Korea opened up the agricultural market. International engagement, particularly the USA, set industrial growth targets and often turned farming land into factory sites.

During the Korean war, agricultural subsidies and products were shipped in, however the local farming practices were not supported nor preserved. Balancing between military dictatorship and neoliberalism, it was a tricky time for young farmers to find their place between their land and citizen responsibilities. 

Women farmers particularly, were not invited to be part of the social reform, so the Korean Women’s Peasant Association (KWPA) began to give a voice to the ladies who were supposed to tip-toe through the rice fields quietly.

It is a national organization of women farmers based in Seoul, fighting for food sovereignty* and an end to violence against women. 

Increasing foreign imports meant it was difficult for local farmers to compete with international products and many farmers gave up and moved to the cities for ‘industrial’ work. Rice, vegetables and farm animals have been the main agricultural outputs from Korea. 

Geum-Soon Yoon Together with their ‘sister’ organisation, the Korean Peasants League, Geum-Soon Yoon and her colleagues fight for food sovereignity (security and systems of food), while providing training programs to help their peers develop biodiverse processes such as seed banks. 

Additionally, there is a focus on women’s rights. The modern land and food machine has dollars first and people second, often resulting in women coming third in any considerations. Specifically, this means not honouring ownership or labour rights, let alone the role of a mother and care requirements for her family.  The trend for Korean men to bring ‘foreign brides’ into Korea to help them on farms has also been a learning curve for the women’s alliances as they need to cross traditional cultural barriers to support and care for new ladies in the land who can’t always communicate with local language, nor have the courage to stand up for their rights. 

“Most women neither possess land nor have the right of joint possession. They are excluded from education and training, buying machinery, financial support. Only their husbands have these rights, ” says Geum-Soon Yoon. 

Due to quick industrialisation of South Korea, most farmland has been lost and the rest is subject to genetically modified crops and capitalists. Women were traditionally looking after the collection and preservation of seeds which is now in jeopardy of MNCs who comb the region looking for easy farmland to monocrop. The price of GM seeds is 100% more expensive and pollutes the soil so the next year’s crop is contaminated.

Geum-Soon Yoon has a background that clearly leads her to the work she’s doing now. She was born into a large farmer family with 5 siblings. She left home in 6th grade to attend school in Soul (living with her sister) and was awarded a degree in Environmental Engineering. In the early 1980s, her activism took hold and she was formally organising farmer education and childcare for those farmer’s kids. 

Between marrying, raising her own twins and growing rice and vegetables, she is consistently on the forefront of farmers and women’s rights in Korea, even as president of the Korean Women’s Peasant Association.

Watch Geum-Soon Yoon explain with English subtitles, her international engagements:

 

*Food sovereignty refers to a policy framework advocated by a number of farmers, peasants, pastoralists, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, women, rural youth and environmental organizations, namely the claimed "right" of peoples to define their own food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries systems, in contrast to having cross-border trade in food.

Alyssa Jade McDonald is the founding MD of BLYSS GmbH. The name BLYSS comes from the English word „bliss“, which literally describes a state of profound happiness and joy. Alyssa Jade felt the fusion of bliss and her own name, Lyss, was a commitment to bringing joy into the world via a consciously-indulgent gourmet experience and evolving business methods to bring communities forward together, from addressing diabetes in the Gulf to standards of living in South America.

After years of corporate life which had shattered her health, Lyss began looking for the best solutions for her stomach, environment, and community. She completed the Ironman world championships and threw a handful of naked cacao beans into the ocean off Kona and promised freedom to chocolate. In awe of the intense properties of cacao, she was determined to bring chocolate back to being the food of gods, and find a way to protect it. Three years of research and trial and error sessions in the kitchen eventually led to the science of turning cacao into high quality chocolate through the virgin process. For more information about Alyssa, see her profile. 

Sign Up to our Newsletter

So you enjoy The NextWomen. Why not sign up to our monthly newsletter?
You get a Letter from the CEO :-), the chance to catch up with the best of our recent articles - and some extra things we throw in once in a while.

We try hard for smart reading.