Minister Kang Kyung-hwa (강경화 공사님) of the Republic of Korea has been appointed UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Minister Kang was serving here at the Mission when I started, back in 2004. She is an extraordinary woman: intelligent, articulate in both English and Korean, charismatic, passionate about her work. She has been especially focused on pushing through an international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the text of which was agreed this August after five years of negotiations. Ms. Kang’s particular emphasis was on the rights of women with disabilities, and she was able to get a paragraph on the subject included in the final text.
It is presumably in recognition of this work that Minister Kang was appointed Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights. As a pro-Korean feminist, I’m personally pleased to see a powerful Korean woman coming to international prominence. On a global scale, Korea does pretty well by its women — they’re educated, they have lots of professional opportunities, they vote — but for all that, there is still plenty of sexism and inequality. Minister Kang’s career is part of changing that.
I also find her inspiring as a model for Jenny, who is also attractive, intelligent, hardworking and capable. Last night Jenny caught sight of an old classmate, Caolionn O’Connell, in a Nova episode about E=mc2, and it got Jenny worrying about whether she’s made the right choices in life or tried hard enough.
I personally think Jenny’s doing just fine. She tends to have degree envy, but unlike science majors, humanities majors who go straight to grad school tend to waste their time there. If Jenny had gone straight into grad school, it would have been to study Provençal poets some more, and that would mean that she couldn’t go get her Ph.D. in something she’s passionate about — Central Asian religious development, say — after she’d built up some solid knowledge about the subject. So I don’t think it was a mistake for Jenny to strike out into the real world after college.
Jenny has never gone in a straight line, but that’s just part of who she is: someone with wide-ranging interests and diverse talents. Still, I can understand her worry. She’s building up a formidable set of skills in her current job — everything from management to programming — but what are they all for? Being good at getting things done is only meaningful if you have something meaningful to get done. And for all the value and importance of good corporate management, and of getting women into the higher echelons of the business world, I agree with Jenny that there has to be more to her life than helping insurance companies be slightly more efficient.
That’s why Minister Kang is an inspiring model. Jenny and I still want to join the Foreign Service in a few years, but even if we don’t, there are other ways for Jenny to follow her passions. New opportunities will arise, interesting doors will open, and Jenny will choose which ones to step through. When she does, she’ll have the necessary skills to be successful. Could Jenny one day be UN Deputy High Commissioner for Something Important? Absolutely. And even though she hasn’t gotten her Ph.D. yet, I think Jenny is doing all the right things to become someone like Minister Kang down the road.
Well, except for being Korean. There are some things even Jenny can’t do.
But fewer than you’d think.