The Role of Women in the May 18 Democratic Uprising in Gwangju
The Role of Women in the May 18 Democratic Uprising in Gwangju
  • 여성신문
  • 승인 2007.06.23 00:00
  • 수정 2013-07-12 17:31
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"Save Our Kids"...
Peace & Order Maintained through Maternity
The Need to Change the Deep-seated Prejudice against Women..."When men were bearing arms against enemies, women were simply boiling rice"

 

Put your yellow handkerchiefs on the olive trees, held by the 2007 WWPFG Steering Committee at the May 18 Democratic Cemetery in Mangwoldong.
'Put your yellow handkerchiefs on the olive trees', held by the 2007 WWPFG Steering Committee at the May 18 Democratic Cemetery in Mangwoldong.
Discussions on the Gwangju uprising have focused on the resistance of the citizens which eventually drove out the martial troops, while missing a look into the roles women played throughout the whole process of the resistance. It is true, however, that a direct struggle against the government troops was not possible without support of women.

Women did not remain as submissive victims in the uprising. At the initial stage, they made public the atrocities of the martial troops, helped people from all walks of life, regardless of sex and age, share a sense of indignation, and created a resistance discourse so that they were able to join the uprising with a pure sense of community and solidarity.

An appeal of women to save the young students who were 'like their own kids' from the merciless violence of the paratroopers was a major determinant for creating an absolute community, transcending all class differences. At the beginning of the uprising, women who took the initiative in demonstrations on vehicles and a street broadcast encouraged ordinary citizens to join the uprising by defining the struggle as a confrontation between the enemies, or the martial troops, and our forces, or citizens of Gwangju. 

 Touching off and spreading of the uprising and forming a resistance discourse are not all the activities of women. When the city was totally isolated from the rest of the country, women and storekeepers brought citizens rice balls and drinks to shake off fear and maintain righteousness, and to support themselves. The official leadership of the uprising was at the provincial government office, and in the YWCA building on the other side, women helped preparing for citizens' rallies, producing demonstration necessities such as bulletins, wall-posters, and Molotov cocktails. They also raised funds, donated blood for the wounded, and washed and clothed corpses to keep the uprising going.

 

Women visitors are listening to a woman activist who explains the meaning of Gwangju womens activities during the democratic uprising in 1980 at the May 18 Democratic Cemetery in Mangwoldong.
Women visitors are listening to a woman activist who explains the meaning of Gwangju women's activities during the democratic uprising in 1980 at the May 18 Democratic Cemetery in Mangwoldong.
The activities of women throughout the uprising have not yet been tangible due largely to a male-oriented perspective. Roles such as creation and maintenance of an absolute community, which served as a major driving force behind the sparking and sustaining of the uprising, productive activities that made the uprising possible including cooking, fund-raising, supplies and other support, the follow-up of the massacre, or washing and dressing corpses, and post-uprising activities such as taking care of those arrested, fund-raising, and disclosing the truth, have all been considered peripheral from the standpoint of men.

Meanwhile, the role of women in the uprising has been underestimated as the women themselves thought little of their achievements or kept silent due to their trauma. What is more, as fact-finding and the rewarding of victims have been central to the tangible activities of men, most activities of women that were not regarded as unlawful have unfortunately not been uncovered in the course of reconstituting the historic truth.

Restoration of the damage done to women and their resistance that have been overlooked in the archives of the Gwangju uprising as historic facts will be a must for women who wish to claim to be defenders of human rights and supporters of peace. 



 

By AHN Jean, Chair of Gwangju-Jeonnam Women's Association United, Professor of Social Welfare, Kwang-shin University

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