The Making of a Modern Day Feminist

The Making of a Modern Day Feminist

Gabe Fleisher, Amy Phillips, and Carrie Zhang

Soon-Young Yoon, PhD, boasts an impressive résumé, including stints as United Nations Representative for the International Alliance of Women, Chair of the Board of Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), and Chair for the NGO Committee of the Status of Women.

As a dedicated advocate for women’s rights, Yoon has created a powerful platform for her cause. During her visit to Burroughs in November, Yoon shared that her family has influenced much of her work.

Yoon was born in Pyongyang, North Korea to a family of all daughters. Her grandfather quickly became a major influence in her life, naming her Soon-Young, a traditionally male name meaning “peace forever.”

According to Yoon, her grandfather was a dominant figure in his nation who introduced modern irrigation to villages and built the first western-style hospital in North Korea, believing the modernization of the country would bring a time of peace and prosperity. “He put all his hopes and dreams into his children to turn Korea into the industrial 21st century nation,” Yoon said. “The problem was he had one son and four daughters,” at a time when the nation was almost exclusively led by men.

Unlike many women in North Korea at the time, Yoon and her sisters received extensive educations, in accordance with their grandfather’s wishes. When challenged by his friends, Yoon’s grandfather would respond that “he wouldn’t trade any one of his girls for ten of their boys.”

At a young age, Yoon was offered a teaching position at Stanford, but instead began her career at the United Nations, where she has worked tirelessly for women’s rights and travelled internationally to visit victims of human rights abuses.

“My grandfather gave me more than my name,” Yoon said from the Burroughs podium. “I inherited the precious gift of a parent’s values and the belief that he had in social equality development and the importance of peace.”