Freda Miriklis, president of the International Federation of Business & Professional Women, addressed a gymnasium full of grade 10 and 11 students at Shinseong Girls’ High School, Jeju City, on May 28. “You are the leaders of tomorrow,” she said in opening her speech. “And we need to find ways that we can work together and achieve a better future for all.”
The theme of “girl power,” woven through Miriklis’ lecture, dealt with topics such as: the importance of having strong female role models; being involved in social and political issues; encouraging girls to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering and math and the idea of women leaders improving economic growth.
“If we decide as societies, governments and businesses to invest in women and girls, we will strengthen our efforts to fight poverty, drive development and spread stability,” she said. “When women thrive, families, communities and countries thrive, and the world becomes more peaceful and prosperous.”
President of BPW International since 2011 and international executive member since 2005, Miriklis hails from Australia, where she is an investment adviser, a Fellow of the Financial Services Institute of Australasia, Designated Trading Representative with the Australia Securities Exchange and a Master Stockbroker with the Stockbrokers’ Association of Australia. She is currently on the island attending this week’s Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity as the keynote speaker for Special Session 1: “21st Century: ‘Asian Century’, ‘Women’s Century’ – Achieving Full Economic Potential Through Gender Equality.”
Founded in 1930, BPW International has become one of the world’s most prominent networks for women empowerment, with approximately 30,000 members in 95 countries on 5 continents. In May 2014, the organization will hold its next international congress in Jeju, hosted by the BPW-Korea Federation.
One of BPW’s main projects is in the development of young female leaders for the future. “We have been doing a mentoring program for high school students almost every year,” said Im Aeduk, president of the BPW-Jeju chapter. “I thought it would be a good idea for the students of Shinseong Girls’ High School to listen to Freda Miriklis. I wanted to make sure all the girls could attend and benefit from hearing a powerful female leader, and not just the students at the highest levels.” As a result, the school provided student translators so all girls could attend. The high school holds a particular special place for Im, a 1981 graduate.
A Q&A session followed the speech with students asking questions such as, how to overcome life’s challenges, what should be done to encourage female students in the fields of math and science, and what the benefits were of being involved in BPW.
“It was really inspiring when I asked her how she overcame all the obstacles in her life and she simply said, ‘Be positive,’” said Yang Ga-yeon, one of the students who stood up during the Q&A session. “I was expected something big, but it was simply, ‘Stay positive.’”
Other students also drew inspiration from Miriklis’ speech. “Before I came today I was starting to feel the pressure from other girls, thinking they were better than me. I wanted to give up,” said Cho So-young. “But now I realize we shouldn’t limit the possibilities in ourselves. I think this is a topic that every student should hear.”
In return, the students inspired Miriklis. “When Ms. Im said I would be talking to high school students today, I was expecting 50 of you, not 500. I am incredibly impressed with the young women of Korea, the young women here in the beautiful island of Jeju,” she said.
Closing her speech, Miriklis left the girls with final words of encouragement. “You’re already leading the world in technology. The world is looking to Asia for direction and ideas,” she said. “I would like to encourage you to be the very best you can, and I look forward to seeing you all again next year.”
Yang Ga-yeon, Grade 11, Dream Job: Working for Amnesty International
“I think ‘girl power’ is the power to believe in myself and better the world. Even though we have a little bit of competition in our school, I’ve figured out that through this competition we can help and respect each other. I think the female ability to care about each other can shape the world into a better place.”
Hyun Hyun-young, Grade 11, Female Role Model: Margaret Thatcher
“When we learn about our country’s history, such as the Joseon Dynasty a lot of it is filled with men. We don’t have women leaders. Maybe that’s why women feel inferior to men in Seoul or on the mainland. But Jeju is a little isolated from the country and a little bit different.
My dream is to become a diplomat. I’ve heard that becoming a diplomat as a woman is very difficult, but I think I can accomplish my dream. In Jeju Island, women power is very strong.”
Cho So-young, Grade 11, Career Aspirations: Child Psychologist
“There are a lot of stereotypes from adults that exist, such as men are much better than women, and that the man should control the situation and the woman should follow. One way to break this stereotype is to tell girls this is a wrong way to think.”