Women in South Korea
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|Gender Inequality Index|
|Women in parliament||17% (2016)|
|Females over 25 with secondary education||79.4% (2010)|
|Women in labour force||57.9% employment rate (2015)|
|Global Gender Gap Index|
|Rank||108th out of 149|
|Part of a series on|
|Women in society|
Women in South Korea have experienced significant improvements for social changes in recent years, compared to previous times, when Confucianism was deeply imbued in the culture. In today's society, the economy of South Korea has tremendously improved due to urbanisation, industrialisation, military authoritarianism, democratic reform, and social liberalisation since the late 1960s. Thus, gender roles and gender identities eventually have been modified as a result to changing modernity. More than half of Korean women are employed and furthermore, more than 25% of married women are employed as full-time workers. In politics, although there are not as many female politicians as male politicians, the female politicians have recently begun to participate more actively than in the past. For instance, in the National Assembly, women occupy 20 of the 299 seats.
The status of women varies depending on their social class and financial independence. In metropolitan areas, women have more access to education, which means they are less confined to the home as housewives. Most of the employed women in urban areas work in tertiary industries such as the service sector. Therefore, as working-class women, they have more power in making decisions within their households and are more financially independent. On the other hand, in rural areas, most women work in a primary industry such as the agriculture sector. In fact, they do not have the variety of educational and employment opportunities.
The status of women has elevated to the point where it could be seen as equal to men's social standing in terms of education, health, and legal rights. However, there are still plenty of political and economical prejudices against women. Moreover, Korean women are still consistently facing gender stereotypes regarding rigid gender roles. These stereotypes include women staying at home as housewives, being subordinate to men, having less power and voice in political and economic participation and movements, and many more.
Women in South Korea are not restricted to dressing in a certain way, they follow a Western style of dress.
In traditional Korean society, women were taught to be subordinated without formal advanced education or little education. Their roles were limited to be confined to the home as housewives and good mothers. Their duties were to maintain harmony in the household by avoiding any unnecessary conflicts. In addition, a married couple was to live in her husband's household by taking care of her husband's whole family including parents-in-law. Women were expected to produce sons and they were blamed if children were girls due to a notion of preferring a son to a daughter. Women did not have the voice nor participate in society as men did, instead, they were expected to support their husbands.
The improvement of women status was first found during the late 19th century to the early 19th century. A large number of Western Christian missionaries came to South Korea in order to institute modern schools. Among these modern schools, some of them established the schools with a goal to educate women in different fields including literature, arts, religious work, and many more. In fact, before the teachings of Western Christian missionaries, most of the women did not have any access to education. As a result, women were able to participate in political movement because women who got the education also engaged in enlightening other women. During the era under the colonial administration of imperial Japan, Korea women (almost Up to 200,000) were sent to work as comfort women in Japan's military brothels. Until the end of World War II, Korea was under Japanese occupation. Women participated in the independence movement against the Japanese occupation during Japanese colony during 1910-1945, therefore, the role of women has shifted slightly by having education and participating in political movements.
After becoming independent from Japan, the Republic of Korea was established as a liberal democracy. Women who pursued education, work, and public life could now achieve constitutional rights for equal opportunities. For example, several schools were founded for the education of women. Women educated from these schools began to engage in the arts, teaching, economic activities, and engaged other women in discussion of gender equality. The percentage of women has steadily increased in professional fields which has resulted in significant contributions to society, especially in terms of increasing GDP. As they took a larger role in economic activities, the educational level of women also increased, providing additional opportunities for professionalization. Today, Korean women receive high levels of education and actively participate in a wide variety of fields, including education, medicine, engineering, scholarship, the arts, law, literature, and sports. Women's participation in social and economic culture is expected to continue to grow and diversify after the election of South Korea's first female president, Park Geun-Hye. This is partially due to Park Geun-Hye's promise to promote a “women’s revolution” and provide support for childcare, increased opportunities for promotion, and salary equality. Furthermore, Park Geun-Hye also promised to make other advances for women, including: increase the representation of women, to facilitate women’s employment and provide support for female workers, to increase educational opportunities for women to be competitive in the labor market, to provide social welfare policies for women, to promote women’s involvement in various social activities. However, not all of these policies have manifested.
Nowadays, women in South Korea are guaranteed all the legal rights that men have. In 1948, women gained their legal rights to vote, drive, and own and inherit properties and assets. For instance, Korean females have access to all medical and healthcare services. All Korean citizens are guaranteed for national health insurance under the National Health Insurance Act. South Korea has worked on its way to implement gender equality by revising and changing any discriminative contents in its existing legislative laws since the 1980s. In fact, South Korea's constitution has achieved its goal of ensuring diverse gender equality legislation within a short period of time.
Implementation of laws to prohibit gender inequalities and prejudice have increased the number of women in the workforce. Nevertheless, women's status in South Korea illustrates the fact that Korea still has a lot of room to be improved for gender equality. Therefore, the legislation and public rules have critical and significant roles to influence Korean cities to elevate the social structure substantially.
As it was shown above, in traditional Korean society, females could not have access to formal education and the literacy rate was low. The transition came in the late 19th century to the early 20th century when the Western Christian missionaries came to South Korea by establishing modern schools for girls. In 1886, Methodist missionaries found a primary school. In 1945, this primary school gained its status as a university, which is now called Ewha Womans University. Ewha Womans University is still known as the most prestigious women's university in South Korea. There were numerous women's schools established respectively. In the 1890s, Chongsin Girls' School and Paehwa Girls' School were established in Seoul, which is the capital city of Korea. There were about ten women institutions of higher education such as junior colleges, colleges, and university by 1987 in South Korea. In fact, the women enrolment for higher education was at 28%. In 1987, there were about 262,500 female students in higher education. Although more females had access to higher education compared to the past, there were only 16% of university and college women teachers in 1987.
The growing number of women receiving a college education has meant that their sex role differs from that of their mothers and grandmothers. Many college-educated women plan independent careers and challenge the right of parents to choose a marriage partner. The often fierce battles between university students and police during the late 1980s included female participants. A correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review quoted a male student leader as saying that "short girls make great demonstrators, as they're very tough and very hard to catch." Whether politically active South Korean university women will follow their Japanese counterparts, who demonstrated during the 1960s and 1970s, into a world of child-raising and placid consumerism remains to be seen. The number of employed married women, however, increased by approximately 12.6 percent annually in the years since 1977.
In 1983 more women—51.8%—were employed in rural areas than in urban areas—37.9 percent. Most of the women working in rural areas were over the age of thirty, as young females (and males) tended to move to, and seek employment in, cities and industrial areas.
Official South Korean statistics indicated that 43.6% of women were in the workforce by 1988. Prospects for lower-class women, however, were frequently grim. In some cases, they were obliged to become part of the "entertainment industry" in order to survive economically. According to one estimate, brothels, bars, massage parlors, discos, and what are known as "Taiwan style" barbershops (that is, those often employing a greater number of masseuses than barbers) employed as many as 1 million women, though not all were prostitutes. This underworld of abuse and exploitation had begun to be criticized and exposed by women's activists.
In today's South Korean society, the Constitution ensures equal access to education for women and also eliminates any discrimination regarding receiving education based on gender. In 1970, the literacy rate was 87.6%. In addition, according to 2002 estimates, the literacy rate increased to 97.9%; 96.6% of females and 99.2% of males are literate. According to 2008 estimates, there is approximately a 99% enrolment rate for both elementary school and middle school. The enrolment rate for high school is at approximately 96.6%. This means that almost 99% of the current South Korean females have approach to primary and secondary education.
During the Goryeo and early Joseon Dynasty, it was customary for married couples to live in the wife's parents' household. This arrangement suggests that the status of women was higher than it was during the later period of the Joseon Dynasty. Neo-Confucian orthodoxy dictated that the woman, separated from her parents, had a primary duty of providing a male heir for her husband's family. According to this custom, once married, a woman had to leave her parents' household and then become a part of her husband's household. The relationship between wife and husband was often, if not usually, distant, aptly described by the Korean proverb: "By day, like seeing a stranger; by night, like seeing a lover." Joseon Dynasty law prohibited widows from remarrying, though a similar prohibition was not extended to widowers. Further, the sons and grandsons of widows who defied the ban, like children of secondary wives, were not allowed to take the civil service examinations and become scholar-officials.
The duty of a woman to her husband, or rather to her husband's family, was absolute and unquestionable. In traditional society, only men could obtain a divorce. A husband could divorce his spouse if she were barren—barrenness being defined simply as the inability to bear sons. The incompatibility of a wife and her in-laws was another reason for divorce.
In contemporary society, both men and women have the right to obtain a divorce. Social and economic discrimination, however, make the lot of divorced women more difficult. The husband may still demand custody of the children, although a revision of the Family Law in 1977 made it more difficult for him to coerce or to deceive his wife into agreeing to an unfair settlement. The rate of divorce in South Korea is increasing rapidly. In 1975 the number of divorces was 17,000. In the mid-1980s, the annual number of divorces was between 23,000 and 26,000, and in 1987 there were 45,000 divorces.
The tradition of total female submission persisted in Korean villages until relatively recent times. One Korean scholar who came from the conservative Chungcheong region recalled that when a high school friend died of sickness during the 1940s, his young bride committed suicide. Her act was commemorated in her own and the surrounding communities as an outstanding example of devotion to duty.
Traditionally, men and women were strictly segregated, both inside and outside the house. Yangban women spent most of their lives in seclusion in the women's chamber. It is said that the traditional pastime of nolttwigi, a game of jumping up and down on a seesaw-like contraption, originated among bored women who wanted to peek over the high walls of their family compounds to see what the outside world was like. Economic necessity gave women of the lower classes some freedom as they participated in farm work and sometimes earned supplemental income through making and selling things.
According to The Economist's 2013 "Glass-ceiling index" of five indicators of friendliness towards working women, South Korea ranks the lowest of all OECD countries because of its lack of women in senior jobs. Historically, however, a small minority of women played an active role in society and even wielded political influence. These people included female shamans (mudang), who were called upon to cure illnesses, tell fortunes, or in other ways enlist the help of spirits in realizing the wishes of their clients. Despite its sponsorship of neo-Confucianism, the Choson Dynasty had an office of shamanism, and female shamans often were quite influential in the royal palace. The female physicians who treated female patients (because male physicians were forbidden to examine them) constituted another important group of women. Sometimes they acted as spies or policewomen because they could get into the female quarters of a house. Still another group of women were the kisaeng. Some kisaeng, or entertainers, were merely prostitutes; but others, were talented musicians, dancers, painters, and poets who interacted with their male patrons. The kisaeng tradition perpetuated one of the more dubious legacies of the Joseon past: an extreme double standard concerning the sexual behavior of married men and women that still persists. In the cities, however, many middle-class women have begun to break with these traditions.
An interesting regional variation on traditional female roles continued in the late 1980s. In the coastal villages of Jeju Island, women divers swam in search of seaweed, oysters, and other marine products and were economically self-sufficient. Often they provided the main economic support for the family while the husband did subsidiary work — took care of the children and did household chores — in sharp contrast to the Confucian norm. The number of women divers was dwindling, however, and men were increasingly performing jobs in service industries. Ancestor worship was rarely practiced while female-centered shamanistic rites were widespread.
The factories of South Korea employ hundreds of thousands of young women on shop floors and assembly lines making, among other things, textiles and clothes, shoes, and electronic components. South Korea's economic success was bought in large measure with the sweat of these generally overworked and poorly paid female laborers. In the offices of banks and other service enterprises, young women working as clerks and secretaries are indispensable. Unlike their sisters on Jeju Island, however, the majority of these women work only until marriage.
There has been a tangible increase in the number of women joining the workforce. In 2014, the number of Korean women in the workforce was estimated to be 57%, whereas in 1995 the number 47.6%. The statistical increase in the number of employed women has not correlated with the equality of wage, as the gender wage gap reported in 2013 was 36.3%, the worst of all OECD nations present in the data.
Although increasing numbers of women work outside the home, the dominant conception, particularly for the college-educated middle class, is that the husband is the "outside person," the one whose employment provides the main source of economic support; the wife is the "inside person," whose chief responsibility is maintenance of the household. While it is viewed as a societal norm that women be able to contribute to the finance of the household, the majority of the onus is placed upon men, Women tend to leave the labor force when they get married. Many women manage the family finances, and a large number join kye, informal private short-term credit associations that give them access to funds that might not be obtainable from a conventional bank. Probably the most important responsibility of married women is the management of their children's education.
Women also claim much of the responsibilities of being a caretaker, as half of the women that voluntarily leave their mid-career or senior-level jobs do so due to family commitments College-educated women in Korea tend to invest more time and capital to raising their children than individuals without a degree. but due to the declining population in Korea There has been a conscious effort to address these issues by the South Korean government, as "the government gives loans or subsidies to businesses to build childcare facilities, and more than half of all businesses now provide these. It also pays subsidies to businesses that offer more than 30 days of childcare leave a year, allow women to work less than full time, and re-employ women returning from maternity leave."
Despite these efforts, the number of women who regularly use these support systems composes a minority of the women who find themselves in this position. A major factor that influences these decisions is the declining birth rate in Korea, as Korea's birthrate of 1.19 per family put a greater emphasis upon the quality of education and care upon the one, or two children that the family will take care of.
The Glass Ceiling for women has been tested in contemporary times. In 2012, Samsung promoted three women into executive roles, which was unusual for a company of its size. Samsung has also stated that it aims to have at least 10% of its executive positions to be held by women.
Prostitution in South Korea is illegal, but according to one estimate, brothels, bars, massage parlors, discos, and what are known as "Taiwan style" barbershops (that is, those often employing a greater number of masseuses than barbers) employed as many as 1 million women, though not all were prostitutes. This underworld of abuse and exploitation has begun to be criticized and exposed by women's activists. South Korean women and girls have been victims of sex trafficking in South Korea. They are raped and physically and psychologically harmed in brothels, businesses, homes, hotels, and other locations throughout the country.
In 2003, after recovering from a financial meltdown, the unemployment rate for women was 12% in the 15-29 age group. In 2006, women in the age group of 20-29 constituted 40% of the total unemployed population, the figure being roughly around 340,000. The high levels of unemployment for women has contributed to the growth of the Korean sex trade. There are an estimated 500,000-1,000,000 women who partake in the sex trade, that being approximately one in every twenty-five women. The prominence of the sex trade has given birth to the "Bacchus Ladies", grandmothers who trade sex and other favours on top of the energy drink Bacchus they sell, of which their name was coined after.
South Korean law first acknowledged women as rapists in June 2013; in 2015, the first woman was charged with rape in South Korea. The woman, only identified with her surname Jeon, was also the first woman to be arrested for sexually abusing a man. As well, South Korea outlawed marital rape in 2013.
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