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The Rise of Feminism: A South Korean Perspective 

Feminism is defined as the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes. To expound on it, it is the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes, the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes, the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities, as well as the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.

In traditional Korean society, women were taught to be subordinated without formal advanced education or little education. Women were assigned to do household chores and the likes. Their duties were to maintain harmony in the household by avoiding any unnecessary conflicts. In addition, a married couple were to live in her husband’s household by taking care of her husband’s whole family including parents-in law. Women were coerced to bear sons and if they failed to do so, they were punished. Women were not also given the same opportunities as men. Their voices were deemed useless and unfit for public attention.

The improvement of women status was first found during the late 19th century to the early 20th century. A large number of Western Christian missionaries came to South Korea in order to institute modern schools. Modern universities redefined education for women. They gave women a chance to learn certain topics previously inaccessible to them. As a result, women were able to participate in political movements because women who got the education also engaged in enlightening other women.

During Japan’s occupation, women from Korea were taken away from their families to serve as comfort women to military personnel stationed in various locations in the territory of Imperial Japan. 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 started progressing from these schools and universities empowering women with education and skill-enhancement. The percentage of women has steadily increased in professional fields which has resulted in significant contributions to society, especially in terms of increasing GDP. The increase of the number of women entering the professional stage not only benefited the GDP of Korea, but also it inspired other women to also take up education and enter the stage of professionalism.

Today, Korean women receive high levels of education and actively participate in a wide variety of fields, including education, medicine, engineering, scholarship, 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 child care, 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.

Feminism is gradually progressing, however, Koreans seem to be opposed to the concept of feminism as there are still some issues related to the said topic. The first one was the issue with perpetrators filming or photographing women with hidden cameras in public spaces. There are also some child assault and sexual harassment cases being filed up to this day.

However, one of the main and strongest reasons as to why South Koreans are still not open to the idea of feminism is due to their strong faith to Confucianism, which states that “Women were to be obedient to the father and elder brothers when young, to the husband when married, and to the sons when widowed”. Another reason Hence, the question of this topic boils down to “traditionalism vs. modernism”; will South Koreans stick to their traditional roots of Confucianism which contradicts the idea of feminism, or will they start accepting new ideas, with a possibility of abandoning their old belief.