Custom «Women's Inequality in South Korea» Sample Essay

Custom «Women's Inequality in South Korea» Sample Essay


The issue of gender equality remains a topical question nowadays, especially when it concerns female rights within the contemporary society. Although people live in the progressive age, female inequality and discrimination in some countries violates universal human rights. In South Korea, gender inequality refers to different realms, including culture, economical life, and the working environment. The influence of the Korean patriarchal tradition can be regarded as one of the main reasons for the establishment of this particular situation. At the same time, gender inequality and discrimination have forced many women to abandon their educational perspectives and career goals for the benefit of their families. Therefore, although South Korea has made a huge progress in the realm of women’s rights, there is still a lot of work to do in order to improve the position of a woman within the Korean society.

Discrimination of Women from the Cultural Perspective

Among reasons for gender inequality in South Korea, cultural practices can be regarded as the main factor influencing this situation. To understand the state of affairs, one should acknowledge cultural roots that are deeply embedded in South Korea’s society. Confucianism was and continues to be the main widely-practiced religion in the country. According to the main principles of Confucianism, each gender performs its own role within the family (Chong 701). While family as a unit of the society has an important place in South Korea, it is obvious that family is dependent on and influenced by the society’s expectations. Although South Korea like many other countries continues developing in the modern world, leaving many ideological relics in the past, the gender status within the society remains strong, especially in marriage life and at a workplace. According to Woojin Chung and Monica Das Gupta, “successive authoritarian military regimes maintained laws and policies that kept women marginalized in their domestic and public lives, and these were amended only recently as the political environment changed” (760). Thus, the patriarchal culture as a part of the traditional ideology has greatly influenced the mentality of gender supporting the establishment of female discrimination in different areas of the South Korean life.

Cultural Traditions at Home and Women’s Inequality

Cultural traditions at home, specifically the Korean patriarchal order, have had a great impact on the establishment of women’s inequality in the country. In the traditional Korean society, female role has historically been restricted by male domination. From a young age, Korean girls have been taught all virtues of obedience and subordination to the future husband (Chong 702). Mothers prepared their daughters for their obligations in the family, including housekeeping, supporting their husbands, and taking care of children (Chong 704). While most advanced societies share the belief that both spouses have to support and help each other concerning home and children-related responsibilities, in South Korea the particular duty division can be hardly seen. According to Kelly H. Chong, “The contemporary Korean family, however, is characterized by an enormous degree of internal tension, as modern forces clash with powerful ideals and values of the traditional Confucian family system that are both per perpetuated and refashioned within the modern patriarchal family” (9). In the traditional Korean family, the wife performs her duties, being subordinated to the husband. In the South Korean patriarchal family, a man who is a patriarch can be seen as an oppressor whose power is not limited to the wife, but also concerns other family members (Park 48). While the traditional marital relationship has been based on the wife's submission to the husband, it has greatly impacted the establishment of extreme inequality nowadays. An unequal evaluation of worth between men as an economic supporter and women as a domestic worker has influenced an unequal division of power (Park 49). In addition, men have obtained patriarchal authority that, according to the traditional ideology, has been transmitted to the male offspring. As a result, one can observe gender discrimination and unequal social structure in modern South Korea.

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Cultural Practices at Workplaces and Gender Discrimination

Cultural practices at workplaces support men to be more likely to get higher administrative positions in the office. While the Confucian culture considers each gender to perform different roles, men are defined as the primary financial supporter. From this perspective, male employees are generally recruited to higher positions (Nelson 54). At the same time, many employers have certain fears concerning married women and, thus, they are more likely to promote male workers. The particular situation can be explained by the fact that a great number of management positions are occupied by men who believe women spend more time on housekeeping and less time at the workplace. In addition, male employers want to see women supporting their husbands instead of governing them (Jin-Young, Jong-Wha, and Kwanho 26). Furthermore, gender discrimination can be also observed in job recruitment. For example, men tend to find a job faster than women because they are more judged as compared to the opposite gender in South Korea (Park 49). Because of the patriarchal culture, women are expected to take care of home and children. In this respect, employers are more willing to hire a man fearing that a woman can quit her job because of family obligations. At the same time, employers are afraid that women are going to leave a job after getting pregnant. Hence, employers show their biases concerning non-single women seeking a job, as well as single females fearing that one day they will get married. Overall, male job seekers have better possibilities and higher opportunities in securing employment.

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Women’s Inequality in the Economic Realm

In the economic realm, a significant gender inequality continues to exist. Although South Korea has made a notable economic progress in the past half of the century, there is a perception among South Korean women that gender inequality in different parts of the society, including economic sphere, remains strong. Results of the 2002 Social Survey by Statistics Korea demonstrate that 72.4% of women feel that they are discriminated against (Jin-Young, Jong-Wha, and Kwanho 1). From a historical perspective, women faced severe barriers in terms of getting equal treatment till the 1970s when the situation began to change slowly (Jin-Young, Jong-Wha, and Kwanho 1). In the economic realm, many contemporary Korean women remain dependent on their husbands (Chang 56). Unfortunately, the dominant conception that the husband is the main source of economic support continues to be predominant among women in modern South Korea. While a great number of women quit their job, choosing family and housekeeping, those who continue working face unequal work payment. Statistics show that in 2013 there was a 36.3% gap between male and female wages (Neyer, Lappegard, and Vignoli 270). South Korea had the worst indicator among all nations present in the OECD study. Therefore, economic status of South Korean women is vulnerable due to a number of reasons, including the principal cause that is female sacrifice in marriage.

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Female Poor Activity on the Market

While women tend to do the majority of domestic work, as well as taking care of children, they show less activity on the market. Although more and more husbands understand decisions of their wives to make a career and continue working after the childbirth, still many spouses share the idea that the woman's obligation is to stay at home and take care of children during their early years or even longer (Park 52). According to the studies, a great number of South Korean women at the age of 25 to 35, which is the time of marriage or childbearing, quit their job (Chang 98). In this respect, the mentality created under the influence of the tradition ideology is still deeply rooted in the contemporary social life of South Korea. Findings show that about 22% of married women leave their workplaces because of childbirth, while around 41% of female employers quit job, choosing marriage (Jin-Young). According to the statistics, Korean women give 4.6 times more attention to non-market labor than to the market one, while other countries such as the Netherlands and Australia have rates of 2.4 and 1.8 respectively (Neyer, Lappegard, and Vignoli). Thus, one can conclude that Korean women face greater pressure in terms of home responsibilities than career goals.

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Marriage and Workplace

Furthermore, married women demonstrate lower labor market participation than their male spouses. According to the report presenting the OECD statistics in 2012, Korea was the country with the largest discrepancy between male and female incomes among 27 countries (Neyer, Lappegard, and Vignoli). Unfortunately, the situation has hardly changed over the past years. The study shows that there is a disharmony between gender equality and economic development in the country. Moreover, statistical outcomes of the OECD surveys point out that in Korean families, as compared to other states, husbands' contribution to housekeeping was the lowest (Neyer, Lappegard, and Vignoli). Furthermore, according to the study that Kelly H. Chong has conducted interviewing women who have left workplace in favor of their marriages, several women “found the demands of day-to-day domestic burdens and obligations of a conventional Korean marriage difficult to cope with, often requiring a great deal more sacrifice than they expected”, while “other women discovered that once married, their spouses were a great deal more traditional than they had anticipated” (12). Thus, dedicating themselves to the family, Korean women usually do not have enough time and strength to return to work. At the same time, Korean women have the highest rate with respect to hours of unpaid work among advanced societies. Besides, the factor of women’s inequality in the labor market regulates the extent to which married women are dependent on their husbands in terms of economic support. As a result, married South Korean women feel safer in quitting their job because they rely on their husbands as main financial supporters (Chang 44). This apparently increases gender inequality in the distribution of housework.

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Barriers in the Educational System

Despite some progress in recent years, women continue facing certain barriers within the educational system. In the traditional South Korean patriarchal society, women obtained little formal education. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Christian missionaries began creating schools for girls and, thus, female education began developing. In the 20th century, more and more schools and institutions for women emerged in South Korea. Nevertheless, the share of school and college female teachers remained low. At the same time, the impact of the patriarchal ideology can be observed in male and female privileges when choosing whether to go to study or not. Thus, situations when boys are granted education and their sisters remain at home are very typical in South Korea, especially in rural areas. In this respect, some South Korean women have a small choice concerning education. Others show a tendency to quit studying or leave workplace because of childbirth.

In addition, stereotypical thinking regarding gender roles can be seen in textbooks. According to the results of studies carried out by the Korean Women’s Development Institute (KDWI), women are stereotypically depicted cleaning the house or waiting for their husbands to come home (qtd. in Sleziak 38). On the contrary, men are portrayed as doctors, politicians, or teachers. Moreover, the study shows that girls are more likely to choose 'girlish' electives like art instead of some physical occupations. This gender discrimination negatively influences women who start teaching each other what is right and what is wrong from the stereotypical perspective, hence creating barriers in educational and social life. In addition, although more and more female activists, politicians, and business-ladies attempt to change the established situation in South Korea, they are widely criticized for being successful and progressive. Thus, many South Korean women remain victims of the patriarchal ideology that established the particular order many centuries ago.

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Gender Discrimination in Terms of Ability

Strong cultural norms promoting boys’ education when parents with low income have to choose who of their children will study can be distinguished as one of the most widespread reasons of women’s inequality concerning education. In this respect, the traditional patriarchal ideology has played the main role in the formation of such division. The particular situation of favoring sons over daughters seems to be a tendency, especially in rural areas (Woojin and Das Gupta). Even ten years ago, “women continue to report significantly higher son preference – controlling for a range of other characteristics – if their husband was the only son of his parents, and therefore the only source of male descendants” (Woojin and Das Gupta 773). Moreover, many young girls have to work instead of studying to support their families economically, as well as taking care of their aged parents. Women from rural areas usually seek a job in bigger towns and cities and very often their attempts to find a better life turn against them. There are cases when young Korean women from rural areas get into trouble such as sexual abuse and harassment (Chang 112). Unfortunately, women are not protected from such unpredictable situations, but some South Korean girls do not have much choice when they search for work with having no opportunity to study.

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It should be noted that the specific tendency of son preference has been gradually transforming into a relic of the past. While in rural areas it can be still observed as a norm, in big cities and towns sons and daughters are expected to be equally responsible for taking care of their aged parents. Furthermore, the number of educated women has rapidly grown recently as compared to the previous century.

According to Kang Byong-Chol and Kim Hye-Mi:

"Women are increasingly showing stronger performances in schools. According to 2009 data, 82.4 percent of female students entered university compared to only 81.6 percent for male students. Last year, the gap widened further to 7.1 percentage points: While 74.5 percent of women managed to get into universities, only 67.4 percent of men did so" (qtd. in Woojin and Das Gupta 780).

Therefore, certain changes in South Korea can be observed concerning women and their educational opportunities. At the same time, many relics can be hardly left in the past because Confucian traditions still bound the society to a certain extent. However, one can expect that rapid urbanization and industrialization will battle public policies supporting the patriarchal family system.

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Obstacles that South Korean Women Face after Graduation

At the same time, economic and social challenges that further undermine girls' education is another obstacle women face in South Korea. Modern South Korean women have more opportunities than their ancestors had 50-70 years ago. Development of the educational system and establishment of various institutions allow girls to receive any education they want. However, statistics show that 4 out of 10 women are willing to quit studying if they get married and 6 out of 10 interviewees are going to leave the educational institution if they get pregnant (Chong 705). Furthermore, the same study demonstrates that a small share of women plans to return to studying after creating a family or giving birth to a child. It is sad that women choose housekeeping instead of building a career. Many interviewees expect to rely on their husbands economically (Chong 706). According to the Confucian ideology, a woman who takes care of her dwelling and family and a man who is a breadwinner are a norm. Nevertheless, the progress does not stand still and more and more spouses have been learning to divide responsibilities, especially when a wife continues studying. In addition, although some women return to educational institutions after marriage or childbirth, they usually occupy service positions after graduation. Thus, one can trace the fact that South Korean women remain under pressure of the stereotypical discrimination to a certain extent.

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At the same time, some contemporary young South Korean women show the tendency of choosing educational and career goals instead of family. From 1960 to 2010, the percentage of adults who graduated from secondary school increased from 20% to considerable 87% (Barro and Lee qtd. in Jin-Young, Jong-Wha, and Kwanho 1). As a result, a great number of well-educated students supported appearance of qualified and skilled workers who ensured higher productivity in companies and the entire South Korean economy. It is beneficial that women have an ability to receive a proper education and become good specialists within the profession they can choose themselves. Nevertheless, the society in South Korea still expects from a woman to build a strong family rather than a career. Female politicians and business-ladies are usually discriminated against for preferring work instead of taking care of children and supporting their husbands. Unfortunately, the Confucian tradition that has influenced the mentality of the South Korean nation over the centuries can hardly be conquered in a few years.


Therefore, women’s inequality in South Korea is a pressing problem that has not lost its topicality. From a young age, Korean girls suffer from gender inequality and discrimination on different levels of social life. Specific attention should be paid to girls from rural areas who frequently do not have a wide range of opportunities as compared to women living in big cities. Moreover, women in South Korea face various barriers in the cultural sphere, at a workplace, and in economic terms. Looking through the paper, one can notice that the traditional mentality influenced by the patriarchal Confucian ideology greatly affects the female position in the society. Both in personal life and at a workplace, South Korean women experience gender discrimination. Numerous studies show that certain changes have occurred over the past 50 years, thus improving the position of women in the society. Nevertheless, modern South Korean women who occupy important governing positions are still criticized and discriminated against by other women more often than by men for refusing to create a family and take care of children. It is important to keep in mind that there is no place for gender inequality in the modern world and, thus, people have to make everything possible to resolve this issue.

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