Home > Education, Gender Rights, Women's Rights > Will Ewha Womans University’s 125-year-old policy of making classrooms off limits to men be repealed?

Will Ewha Womans University’s 125-year-old policy of making classrooms off limits to men be repealed?

Moon Hee Kim

“The female-only admission is in violation of constitutional rights.” “Ewha’s unique ideology and educational objectives needs to be respect for the autonomy of private schools.”

On February 10th, the Constitutional Court held a public hearing on whether or not the female-only admission policy at Ewha Womans University Law School had infringed upon rights to equality and other constitutional rights of male students. Three male lawyer hopefuls filed a petition with the court in 2009 to abolish the policy governing Ewha’s law school.

There are several women-only universities in South Korea, but Ewha is the only one to be given authorization to have a law school. Ewha Womans University was founded in 1886 by Methodist missionary Mary F. Scranton to provide then uneducated and underprivileged women in the male-dominated Korean society with choices for further education. Ewha is one of the twenty-five Law Schools in South Korea, which opened in 2009 to educate 2,000 students annually. The Ewha law school offers 100 new slots annually which is the third largest quota accounting for 5 percent of the total.

There were very different views between the two opposite positions at the hearing, male lawyer hopefuls and Ewha Law School. According to a lawyer Jeon Yong-woo, who represents the male students, it is unconstitutional that male students have to compete for the remaining 1,900 slots, while Ewha Womans University Law School offers 100 new slots annually among the 2,000 allowed number of students admitted to Law School. The lawyer Jeon added that this was “discriminatory against men” to exclusively allocate the 100 slots at Ewha to women.

He also said female students are already taking a greater portion in the local judiciary and they do not need any favoritism over male students. “Today, around 40 percent of new judges and prosecutors are female and the ratio continues to increase. So it’s no longer necessary to maintain the policy to boost gender equality with attempts to allocate more posts to females in the legal circle.” About 42 percent of successful test takers of the bar exam in 2010, or 338, were female, which was a record high. The ratio has hovered around 35-38 percent in the past five years, according to the Ministry of Justice.

Ewha Womans University’s representative, Lee Seon-ae, on the other hand, countered that Ewha Law School’s guidelines for applicants are not under the state, therefore it does not fall under Constitutional Acts. “There needs to be respect for the autonomy of private schools,” Lee said. “There is a logical reason behind solely choosing women for its school, it is Ewha Law School’s educational goal to ‘train lawyers for sexual equality’ and ‘raising female leaders of the future,” said Lee.

Lee added that the rights of men to receive equal education was not being violated as male students have guaranteed opportunities to go to twenty-four other law schools. Furthermore, application guidelines are not in violation of Constitutional Rights since admission into a Law School is not directly related to qualification for becoming a lawyer.

The Ministry of Education which endorsed the policy of Ewha, said the rule is not problematic. “The ministry allowed Ewha to run the Law School in the belief that the admission rule is not discriminatory against males.” Prof. Kim Ha-yeoul of Korea University said the disputed 100 slots should be seen as opportunity for the country to discover talented women and nurture them to become leaders in this still male-dominated society. “Ewha’s sprit of education is nurturing female leaders in Korean society. And the ministry endorsed its right to run the Law School to pursue that specific goal.” Kim said.  Prof. Jeon Hak-seon of Hankook University of Foreign Studies sided with the petitioners, saying, “Reserving a certain number of slots only for female contenders could be viewed as a restriction of equality and fair competition.”

Court official said that the ruling is scheduled to be released in three or four months.

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