Self-Empowerment Program for Runaway Teenage Women
Creating the basis of gender-cognitive studies on high-risk teenage women (2001-2010 present)
Since 2001, The Seoul Metropolitan Government was the first local government to operate a late night street counseling service and self-empowerment support program for high-risk teenage women. Together with a monitoring team representing academia, Seoul developed a special teenage women self-empowerment index, published a best practices manual, and participated in gender cognitive self-empowerment studies. Such efforts became the groundwork for its gender cognitive Self-Empowerment Program.
Establishing the Self-Empowerment School for runaway teenage women (2009)
The Seoul Metropolitan Government organized a task force team in 2009 consisting of relevant experts, professors, and shelter supervisors to seek advice on how to run the Self-Empowerment School. Seoul was also planned the details of the program based on focus group interviews. Thanks to such efforts, Korea’s first Self-Empowerment School was opened in September 2009.
A second Self-Empowerment School and job training shop opened (2010)
Encouraged by the success of the Self-Empowerment School established in 2009, the Seoul Metropolitan Government decided to open another school in an economically marginalized section of the city. Seoul secured a building for the school in the northern section of Seoul, and opened its second Self-Empowerment School. In 2010, Seoul opened a restaurant-cum-cafe on public land to help the school graduates gain financial independence through learning skills and job training.
Establishing a system that starts from prevention to early intervention to self-empowerment (2010)
The Seoul Metropolitan Government has been running a late night street counseling service since 2001 to intervene early in the lives of runaway teenagers to prevent teenage prostitution. Teenage girls on the streets were led to shelters and later guided into education and employment through the Self-Empowerment School and the Self-Empowerment Training Shop. By building a system that begin with prevention to early intervention to self-empowerment, the government was able to help teenage women achieve independence and break free from prostitution.
‘Self-Empowerment Program’ aimed at early intervention -> education -> employment
The Seoul Metropolitan Government operated a needs-based Self-Empowerment Program to keep runaway teenage girls from returning to prostitution and to help them stand on their own. The core of this program is to identify these women early in the process, and build an empowerment system focused on education and employment. Seoul has been operating the country’s first late night street counseling services targeting runaway women since 2001 to help identify such women at an early stage. In 2009, Seoul opened the country’s first Self-Empowerment School and in 2010, opened a Self-Empowerment Training Shop where its graduates can work. The Self-Empowerment Program is based on a path of early intervention to education and to employment.
The Self-Empowerment School is an alternative school catered to the special needs of runaway teenage girls and teen prostitutes. The school operates multi-level learning classes, sex education, internship etc. And, a survey found that 88% of students thought that the school was helpful in self-empowerment. The Self-Empowerment Training shop is a restaurant-cum-cafe where the graduates of the Self-Empowerment School are employed.
GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
Jump in teenage prostitution in the aftermath of global economic crisis
Korea has been experiencing the repercussions from the Asian Financial Crisis and global economic stagnation over the past decade. Unstable socio-economic conditions have weakened the family’s caretaking function. And, neglected teenagers dropped out of school and went out to the streets. It was reported that in 2009, there were an estimated 110,000 runaway teenage women, of whom, 50% were exposed to prostitution. In a country where the internet penetration rate is very high, online-chatting serves as a catalyst in the growth of private prostitution. Yet, most of these girls are not aware that they are ‘selling sex’. They view what they do as a part-time job for food and shelter for the day and therefore different from prostitution in brothels. Neither is the rest of Korean society aware that such practice is often the first step that leads to various forms of adult prostitution.
Lack of social safety net for runaway teenage women
The problem of teenage runaway and teenage prostitution can’t be resolved by just simply bringing them back to their families. Even if they are caught by the police and sent back to their homes, they run away again because of their unstable family conditions. Then a vicious cycle starts again as they resort back to prostitution to get them through the day. Considering Korea’s high-school admission rate of 99% and college admission rate of 82%, these runaway girls stand little chance of starting a new life. Until recently, the only welfare service available to these girls provided by the Seoul Metropolitan Government was temporary shelters, which was far from enough in solving these problems.
Need for self-empowerment program
A survey of runaway teenage girls and teen prostitutes (focus group interview 2008) found that 70% of them wanted to be ‘empowered’ to live an independent life. But most of them lack education and job skills and end up in low-paying jobs (gas station, fast food restaurants.) before going back to prostitution. In response, the Seoul Metropolitan Government launched the Self-Empowerment Program to provide practical means of empowerment to these women. This Program helps these girls strengthen their character to gain control of their life, and supporting their education and employment so that they can stand on their own.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government differentiated its program from existing programs by making it gender-cognitive. It incorporated gender-sensitive programs and teenage women gender minority group support programs it has developed over the past 10 years into its Self-Empowerment School Program. To ensure the successful operation of the program, Seoul selected a private institution with vast experience in working with teenage girls. Seoul was also able to develop a gender-responsive Self-Empowerment Program approach by holding regular meetings with gender studies experts in NGO’s, government, and academia.
1. To build a continuous system for self-empowerment consisting of education and employment.
The majority of runaway teenage are school dropouts. For these girls in their late teens (18-19 years old) without middle school degree, there are hardly any schools they can go to even if they want to. They also have almost no chance of finding any stable employment. In response, Seoul established a Self-Empowerment School where they can get their degrees regardless of age. Seoul also established a Self-Empowerment Training Shop where these women can find jobs after they get their degrees – ensuring a continuous self-empowerment system that they can depend on. The Self-Empowerment Program builds the foundation for self-empowerment for teenage women who have fallen prey to prostitution and provides them a turning point which prevents them from becoming adult prostitutes.
2. To help these women break free from prostitution through tailored services
Most runaway teenage girls do not know the alphabet or multiplication table even in their late teens. So the Self-Empowerment School relies on one-on-one tutoring tailored to the different education levels of the women to help them get their degrees. The school also offers basic classes in finance to break their habit of earning and spending of 100,000-200,000 won at a time. Also, through gender-cognitive sex education, these women learn to value their bodies and to change their previous attitude that condones selling sex for money. Such tailored self-empowerment services help strengthen their willpower to quit prostitution and begin a new life.
Obstacles And Overcome Method
1. Negative perception among local residents – finding solution in cooperation with district government
The Seoul Metropolitan Government’s effort to find a building for the Self-Empowerment School faced a lot of difficulty because of the negative attitude toward victims of teenage prostitution among the local residents. Since the school would be located in an economically backward district, residents feared that building school would reinforce the negative reputation of the area. In response, with the help of the district governments, officials from the Seoul Metropolitan Government directly met with the residents to convince them of the need for the school. Seoul also ran an article on the school in the local newspaper and opened the school campus to the local residents. Such efforts were enough to create a new perception of the school among the local residents, and the school was able to flourish through the local community network.
2. Stigma against teenage runaways and prostitutes securing internship positions through mentoring agreement with companies
Students of the Self-Empowerment School need internships but it was difficult to find such positions. Many companies did not accept these students because they were once ‘runaway teenagers and prostitutes’ or ‘delinquent teenagers’. In response, Seoul Metropolitan Government went about various institutions to convince them of the importance of job experience for these women. Thanks to such efforts, students were given a chance to work at day care centers and welfare centers run by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, and success cases were publicized. Later, students were able to apply for internships and other work experiences thanks to mentoring agreements that the government signed with large companies such CJ Food-vill and SK-Telecom.
3. Problem with drop-outs adopting a system in which the teenage women make the plans and decisions
The biggest concern in the beginning was that the students would lose interest in learning and drop out. In response, the school gave students the autonomy and responsibility to set their own rules through weekly student council meetings. The school also opened courses that the students wanted to stimulate their interest in learning. Also, in the Self-Empowerment Training Shop, the teenage women were the ones to make decisions regarding the restaurant name, menu etc. so that it would be a place which is run by them. This inspired the women to take responsibility in their work and participate actively.
1. Stable funding through matching fund arrangement the central government
The Seoul Metropolitan Government provided most of the funding of the Self-Empowerment School when it first opened in 2009. The NGO which was entrusted with the management of the school shared the cost, but it was small. The Seoul Metropolitan Government provided the land and buildings and operating costs, as well as the teachers’ salaries. As the benefits of the Self-Empowerment School became visible and its needs justified, the central government agreed to a 50:50 matching fund arrangement from 2011 which will help secure more stable funding.
2. Technical support: Information exchange through the homepage and making use of company job mentors
In line with high internet usage among teenage women, the school regularly updates its homepage and operates a system where women can make inquires and get responses. Once a month, a web magazine is sent out to 4,000 people to raise people’s awareness of the policies for teenage women. Also, through an agreement with companies, job consulting in areas of interest for teenage women (hair dresser, cook, nurse, etc.) is provided in cooperation with job mentors.
3. Human resources: Building partnerships with court, colleges etc.
First, Seoul holds regular consultations on guiding teenage women caught for prostitution to the Self-Empowerment Schools and other post-management issues with judicial institutions such as the court, the National Police Agency and probation offices. Judges, government officials in charge, school teachers and probation officers regularly meet to ensure that the teenage women at the school complete education. Second, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has built a network of NGOs, government and academia representatives and hosted monthly case conferences. Heads of women’s shelters, scholars, government officials and school teachers participate in the conferences to identify best approaches for teenage women. Third, Seoul is making use of college student volunteers in cooperation with colleges. The Self-Empowerment Schools form links with local colleges and holds one-on-one mentor-mentee matching classes with student volunteers to encourage teenage women to enjoy learning and earn diplomas.
RESULT AND EVALUATION
Educational benefits – middle and high-school graduation rate of 96%
In the Self-Empowerment School, each student is given individualized consideration, resulting in a middle and high-school graduation rate of 96%. “It was the first time in my life that I felt proud of myself. Now that I have earned my diploma, I am confident that I can meet new challenges.” (An interview with Self-Empowerment School student)
Economic benefits – college, employment, professional certificates
Graduates from the Self-Empowerment School either go on to college or get employed. Economic benefits are very important to them and teenagers employed at the Self-Empowerment Training Shops are becoming role models for women who are trying to escape prostitution. “My goal is to learn what I can from this store and later become Korea’s best barista” (An interview with a staff member of the Self-Empowerment Training Shop).
Psychological benefits – building self-esteem through emotional support and experiencing success
Teenage girls who have been exposed to long periods of violence received continuous counseling and participated in different programs. These women built their self-esteem and character by getting diplomas and gaining financial independence, which gave them the inner strength to break free from prostitution.
Early intervention – core strategy to protect teenagers from adult prostitution
The self-empowerment program was able to receive positive response from society because of Seoul’s early intervention in helping teenage women with high risks of prostitution. Most of these women ended up in prostitution without a clear conceptualization of what prostitution is. However, the Seoul Metropolitan Government did not brand them as sex offenders. Instead, it provided them with an opportunity to break away from prostitution and empower themselves through the self-empowerment support program. Unlike adult prostitutes, teenage girls had the resilience to overcome such risks and the unlimited potential to build a new life with their strength and will.
Effectiveness of cooperation with NGO’s, government, and academia – building gender governance infrastructure
The Seoul Metropolitan Government has been operating a separate organization dedicated to teenage women policies since for the past decade. This team consists of government employees and contract-based temporary government employees with expert knowledge in women’s studies, welfare, teenager studies, and feminist philosophy. This team works flexibly and in close partnership with NGO’s as it has an independent office (Seoul Resource Center for Young Women) located 4 miles from City Hall. Because of their identities as both teenagers and female, teenage women are not only easily left behind in policy-making but also do not have many social organizations that can represent their interests. Nevertheless, the Seoul Metropolitan Government boldly placed them in a strategic category of affirmative action to help them grow into the next-generation female citizens through programs grounded in gender cognitive perspectives.
Based on a decade of experience in street counseling and prostitution prevention education, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has developed a self-empowerment program for teenage women at risk. As a result, new method of self-empowerment were developed such as the Self-Empowerment School and the Self-Empowerment Training Shop through which teenage women can be prevented from returning to prostitution and stand on their own. Thanks to such efforts made by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, these women who once wandered the streets are now given wings with which to they can fly towards their goals and dreams.
1. Financial aspect – securing stable funding
The Seoul Metropolitan Government was able to secure a stable source of funds to support its teenage women policies through a matching fund arrangement with the central government. Seoul plans to increase its budget in this area. Teenage women make up a social group that can easily be overlooked in policy-making because they overlap with both the teenage group and female group. Thus, Seoul needed to develop a special strategy to secure stable funds through its gender-cognitive budget.
2. Cultural aspect – increased social awareness of the problems faced by runaway teenage women
The Seoul Metropolitan Government was able to expand its teenage women self-empowerment support program thanks to the awareness among the public, NGO’s, academia of the problems that are faced by teenage women and their commitment to address these problems together. Also, the media played a role in covering these issues (92 times by the internet, newspaper, TV etc.) and forming a social consensus on its urgency.
3. Regulatory aspect developing regulatory framework for teenage women policies
The Seoul Metropolitan Government established the legal grounds for its teenage women policies through the ‘counseling of teenage women, prevention of prostitution, safety and health support projects (paragraph 14)’, and ‘prevention of prostitution, victim protection, counseling and rehabilitation support (paragraph 12)’ in the Seoul Metropolitan Government Administration System Establishment Ordinance Enforcement Regulations. Other local governments would have to develop a similar legal framework in order to actively pursue their own teenage women policies.
4. “Implementation of CEDAW recommendations – setting an example for other local governments to follow
The Seoul Metropolitan Government was the first in Korea to establish the Self-Empowerment School and Self-empowerment Training Shop for teenage victims of runaway home and prostitution. Such efforts were based on a recommendation issued by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to the government of Korea in 2007. The Seoul Metropolitan Government was the first to implement such recommendations in Korea.
Other local governments (Cheju, Changwon, Yeosu, Busan, and Guro) have visited Seoul’s Self-Empowerment School and Shop and sought advice regarding its operation. Detailed discussions are underway with Busan and other local governments regarding their benchmarking plans for the self-empowerment school. As the Seoul Metropolitan Government was the one to raise the need for self-empowerment support policies for teenage women, it will continue to develop and expand such policies across the nation with even better results going forward.
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