- Students’ ceaseless fights for equal rights
Koreans love to rank everything and make sure we do not fall behind. Yet, not many were thrilled when the Women In Work Index 2017 announced that Korea had “won” 1st place as the nation with the widest gender wage gap among member countries in OECD. “On the global stage, many Korean women are shining. (…) Yet, Korea still has one of the lowest rates of female labor force participation in the OECD – 20 percentage points below the best performers. Women are paid about 37 percent less than men. Females take up just 2 percent of senior management positions – compared to the OECD average of 20 percent.” These statements were made this Sept. 5 by Christine Lagarde, IMF’s first female Managing Director, during her keynote speech delivered to the Korean Network of Women in Finance. As patriarchal culture continues to openly discriminate women in workplace, college campuses are no exception. Misogyny is deeply rooted in Korean society. In fact, no society in the world has yet accomplished perfect gender equality. No other country can offer a perfect model for Korea to pursue, given its distinctive history and culture. Yet, the struggles in foreign colleges can offer lessons for Korean schools, and vice versa. The campuses along the eastern coast of the US are known for their rich history, and longer history of student feminist movements compared to most universities in Korea, though Ewha may be the exception. In this issue, Ewha Voice covers the history of students’ fight for gender equality on Korean campuses, as well as at Harvard and New York University (NYU).
Feminism on Korean campus: Where we are today
Korea’s simmering gender discrimination issues on campus bubbled over into mass media coverage and condemnation in the recent years. 2016 was a special year with a string of exposures of male students’ sexual harassment of female students at Korea’s top universities. The comments made in men’s kakaotalk chatrooms included “I really need to f*ck the freshmen,” “would you do her if she spread her legs for you,” and “she needs to be tied and beaten up.”
“In June of 2016, sexual harassment in the male students’ group chat blew up in Korea University,” said Kim Jin-hee, the director of Center for Gender Affairs in Ewha. “Merely two weeks later in July, Seoul National University was exposed with the same misdemeanor. Just as the trend seemed to near its end in August, Yonsei University appeared – they couldn’t miss the game. Then Sogang University a couple days later.”
Perhaps the revelation appalled the nation because people expected better from the nation’s most educated community.
Ewha’s Center for Gender Affairs plays three main roles to protect students from gender discriminations on campus; conducting preventative education for sexual violence; aiding Ewha students and faculty who have been sexually assaulted in or out of the university; and providing counselings on topics such as students’ sexual identity or past sexual trauma.
Kim studied Psychology and minored in Women’s Studies during her bachelor years in Ewha. She later earned a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology, also in Ewha.
“What causes sexual assault, rape, and gender violence is unequal distribution of power,” Kim said. “When sexual assault is prevalent in a society, we can conclude that its culture is that much unequal. The representing features that endow such power could be age, information, physical power, and race. But the best of the best is gender.”
As horrifying as the male students’ chats were, Kim put significance on the fact that media is now dealing such incidents as “incidents.” For a long time, the social norm suggested that “boys will be boys” or that “men have needs.” The recent media response, however, proves that what is offensive to women – not to mention punishable by law – is also disturbing to men.
“If the male students had continued without ever revealing to the outside what was happening in their group chats, it never would have become an ‘incident’ at all,” she noted. “It was exposed to the world because of whistle-blowers from within the chat groups. Not all men lack gender sensitivity.” The report that a whistle-blower from Korea University submitted in as evidence from a single group chat conversation ran to 700 A4 pages. Yet, Kim is hopeful that attitudes toward women will improve with the younger generation.
“The students roaming the campus today have had compulsory sex education since elementary school,” Kim explained. “It was in 1999 when national law regarding sexual assault was first created in Korea. The crimes became punishable and sex education, a mandatory. The young generation today, therefore, raise questions differently. The seed planted 20 years ago has grown into a fine tree.”
Kim Yun-young firstname.lastname@example.org