Women’s Issues

What are women’s issues in Korea? Korea is still a very patriarchic society. Men rule. Or maybe I should say boys rule. But generation by generation, Korea is becoming more equitable and women and men’s roles are becoming more interchangeable.

Some changes I’ve witnessed in the past fifteen years:

Women continue to work even though they are married or pregnant.
This is a pretty big change. Fifteen years ago, getting married meant that you were – fired. Yep, it’s true. Didn’t matter how good your were at your job, time to wrap it up and stay at home, take care of your husband and his mother, and wait to make babies. Er, your first son. ‘Cause you’re gonna keep having to get pregnant until the fetus turns into a boy.

Most western countries still see women’s salaries lagging behind men’s. This is true in Korea, but there is a twist. With women not quitting, the pay difference between men and women breaks the norm of men higher than women. Because men must do 1-3 years military service, they are 1-3 years behind in work experience and salaries show this lack of experience. A couple of the same age who are married and the wife doesn’t quit her job when they marry, the woman might be the primary bread winner in the household.  Actually many women are the breadwinners in their homes, while their husbands study to take job exams or participate in the 1-3 years that it takes for a twenty something with a college degree to get a job. Additionally some men have even become permanent house husbands or stay at home dads.

Grandpas as caretakers.
I regularly see grandpas taking care of the kids. Fifteen years ago I never saw this. Grandchildren were cute accoutrements, not people, and not the burden of Grandpa to change Baby’s diaper. Now, more and more, I see Grandpa toting baby along, not just Granny. So what are the grannies doing? Hanging out in the sauna? Probably caretaking in another way as urban life is putting Grandma and Grandpa to work for the younger generations.

Female leaders.
Business leaders, church leaders, politicians. While not the rule, things are improving. The Small and Medium Size Business Association has special program to assist women entrepreneurs. Except in the sciences, women leaders are emerging and being celebrated by younger generations.

Girl education.
Girls get education about their bodies and how they work. And they get warnings about safety (walking at night, overdrinking) but when things go wrong – shame and blame are heavy. Teen pregnancy, abortion, rape, sexual molestation – are still taboo topics. Networks are emerging to support the government agencies that have been created, but this is still not enough.

 Of course, it will take a couple more generations to eliminate the men before women attitude in Korea. But it is already in process. Make sure you participate actively in helping to enfranchise women. Which happens, by the way, to enfranchise everyone?


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