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Celebrating International Women’s Day

April 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Moonhee Kim

The International Women’s Day 100th anniversary event, celebrating the accomplishments of women around the world, was held on March 8 at the Seoul Women’s Plaza Art Hall. “We are celebrating mothers, daughters, sisters, wives and workers,” said Susan Raphael, founder of the International Women’s Day Korea Committee and a member of the Seoul International Women’s Association. “And I think connecting with women all over the world, especially in the centenary anniversary, is important.”

Prior to the International Women’s Day 100th anniversary event, a mass meeting of Korean women was held at the Press Center of Korea on March 7th. The meeting, under the theme of ‘Bread and Roses to Her,’ was held while Kim Geuntae, a permanent advisor of the Democratic Party, Kwak Jungsook, a member of the Democratic Labor Party, were attending. Delegate of Civil Society Organization Network in Korea, Park Kyungjo emphasized that leadership of women in the future is necessary. There was also a performance showing the cases of obstacles for gender equality.

March 8th is a day to celebrate women’s achievements throughout history and across nations, and for disregarding divisions, be they national, religious, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. It is an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments as well as for looking ahead towards what still needs to be done to improve the lives and opportunities of women.

There are still many women in South Korea struggling between jobs and infant care every day. The Constitution deems that people cannot be fired or treated differently because of maternity leave; however, the reality is different. According to the Korean Women Workers Association, the majority of companies in Korea see women as half human resources who cannot concentrate on working. So the companies lead the women workers to quit their jobs by announcing inappropriate personnel appointments. For example, the companies appoint women who used to work at headquarters to a branch where it takes more than 2 hours to commute. The treatments towards non-regular workers are even more unfair.

According to the National Statistical Office (NSO), the percentage of female professional and administrative positioned paid workers has increased from 3.6% in 1980 to 20.2% in 2008. Although the number of women who have gained employment has definitely increased, there is still a long way to go for working-moms who struggle with poor and inequal working conditions. Hwang Hyun-Sook, Chairperson of Korean Women Workers Association, said that ‘companies have social responsibility: they need to regard maternity leave as a matter of course, helping those women who come back from maternity leave as well.’

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Categories: Women's Rights

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

April 8, 2011 Leave a comment

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.

Korea’s Top Women’s Law School Battles Reverse Discrimination Lawsuit

April 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Sangmin Lee

The Constitutional Court held a public hearing on 10 February 2011, discussing whether the women only admissions policy is in violation of the right of male students to equality and other constitutional rights. Three male students, who have been preparing for law school, filed a petition against Ewha Women’s University law school in 2009. At the hearing, the primary issues were the applicant’s claim of legality and whether or not it infringes on applicant’s constitutional rights.

According to Jeon Yong-woo, the male student representative, Ewha’s policy of restricting admission to only female students is a violation of constitutional rights, specifically the right to receive education, freedom of occupation and right to equality. The current law school system in Korea is set up in a way where the government limits the number of law school graduates to about 2,000 per year students. Ewha was one of the 25 universities authorized by the Ministry of Education and Science Technology (MEST), and allotted the third highest quota with 100 students. In particular, the fact that Ewha is the only women university to be given a license to run a law school eliminates the quota of 2,000 to 1,900 for male applicants.

Lawyer Jeon insisted that “law school is a training organization for national judicial officers and the admission rules of private law schools should be based on public interest as well. Ewha law school unfairly limits the opportunity to become a lawyer on the basis that the applicants are men. It violates the gender equality.” Therefore, claimants added Ewha law school should choose either to cancel the current guidelines for applicants or have their authorization to run a law school revoked in order to give fair opportunities between men and women.

Jeon stressed that prohibiting men’s admission itself is discriminatory in principle. If there is a need to protect women, preferential policies for women by giving additional points to female applicants will reasonably fit the benefit and protection of the law.

At the national bar examination as of 2010, 338 successful candidates (42%) were female, which was a record high. And the ratio has continued to increase in recent years.

On the contrary, Ewha Womans University’s representative, Lee Seon-ae refuted that Ewha is not a state institution and its guidelines for applicants are not under the state, thus it does not fall under constitutional acts. Furthermore, claimants have no eligibility to sue because they did not even apply to Ewha law school.

Kim Moon-hyun, dean of Ewha law school, said “women make up only 17 percent of the Korean legal circle, thus Ewha law school’s policy is an affirmative action and does not breach the Constitution. Ewha law school’s educational goal is to ‘train lawyers for sexual equality’ and ‘raising female leaders of the future.’ Specific educational goals and ideals of school should be guaranteed in terms of fundamental rights of autonomy of private school.” He also said, “it is desirable to have female-focused legal training institutes in the male-dominated Korean legal circles.”

Lawyer Seong seung-hwan for MEST also said women are proportionally still have a weak position in Korean society. “Ewha’s quota takes up just 5 percent of the total, thus its policy seems to be rational and a proper method,” he insisted.

The ruling is scheduled to be released in 3 to 4 months, according to court officials.

News Brief March 15, 2011

March 16, 2011 Leave a comment

HRM News Briefs

March 15, 2011

 

NHRCK Establish Center to record North Korean Human Rights Violations

National Human Rights Commission of Korea has released a statement stating that they will be establishing a center to investigate and record North Korean Human Rights infringements. Through investigations with North Korean defectors the center plans to archive infringement for future policy making and human rights reform in North Korea.

Documentation of North Korean human rights infringements were mostly done by local NGO’s. This is the first time that a national governmental agency has taken the initiative to archive the infringements.

 

Jungmi Lee, Second Female to be Appointed Constitutional Courtship Judge

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Since the establishment of the constitutional courts in South Korea in 1988 only one female has thus far been appointed to the constitutional courtship. This has changed on March 14, 2011. It was announced that Jungmi Lee was appointed to the courtship making her the second female on the panel. 

The chief justice of the supreme court, Yonghoon Lee, stated on January 31, 2011 that Lee was nominated as an appropriate candidate to the public’s request for a non Seoul National University graduate, female judge that will protect the social minorities.

 


 

Research Stress Urgent Need for Resettlement Program

March 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Moonhee Kim

Being exhausted both physically and mentally, because of the escape from North Korea, hanging between life and death.

“The hardest part of the escape from the North is the fact that human rights as a woman are not guaranteed at all. Although we don’t want to sleep with strangers, there is no choice for us. We have to do what the others ask to achieve the goal, which is entering South Korea. When cops are patrolling, we habitually used to look for the emergency exit first. I’m still tormented by feelings of insecurity,” One of the female North Korean defectors, Ms. Jin, 27, said.

It was found in the ‘Research on The Female North Korean Defectors’ Trauma and proper ways for the Resettlement Program’, conducted by the Ministry of Unification, that most female North Korean defectors suffer from severe trauma (a very severe shock or very upsetting experience, which may cause psychological damage), caused by sexploitation and human trafficking during the process of escape from the North. Thus, it shows that an emotional treatment for these women is urgent.

Choi, Hyun-Sil, a researcher at the Center for Research on Women, Busan National University, pointed out those most female North Korean defectors are too exhausted to recuperate since the escape process takes a great toll on their physical and mental energy. Consequently, the trauma that they had to go through during the defect affects them in a very negative way when they need to control themselves rationally.

This research was held by in-depth interviews with seven female North Korean defectors. Ms. Lee, 32, who came to South Korea through Jilin, China and Cambodia, explains the fear that she went through during the process of the escape. When she escaped to Cambodia, she had to rush into a river which was filled with alligators. She said, “I thought it would be better for me to be eaten by alligators than getting caught by the cops and dying in vain.” She also added that only six people among ten who jumped into the river could come to South Korea alive.

There was testimony of distrust amongst others caused by human trafficking and sexploitation by ethnic Koreans living in China. Ms. Jin said, “I was sold at a giveaway price to get married to the Han who lived in the country side. My husband even followed me to the washroom. If I got caught trying to run away, he beat me till I was half dead.” The other female North Korean defector, Lee mentioned that she is still terrified when she meets a guy in South Korea, doubting him if he is going to use her or if he has another sexual prejudice on female North Korean defectors.

Researcher Choi analyzed that those women sincerely want to forget the bad memories of sexploitation and of having a guilty conscience of the reason why they were so vulnerable to trafficking. They also avoid talking about themselves and stories related to gender.

Therefore, according to researcher Choi, preparing for a professional program to alleviate the female North Korean defectors’ trauma is vital and urgent in South Korea. Although North Korean defectors currently receive psychological counseling at Hanawon, the government resettlement center for North Korean defectors in South Korea, the counseling is limited to a simple psychology test. And it doesn’t help alleviate the pain and trauma resulted from the process of the escape from the North.

Researcher Choi suggests that increasing the number of female police officers would be helpful for the female North Korean defectors because they get the necessary information from the local police officers when they adapt themselves in South Korea. Thus, the education to change South Korean’s perception on North Korean defectors is also raised by Choi.

Choi insists that proper education for the awareness about North Korean defectors is necessary for those starting from the young generation to those in their sixties and seventies, who are classified as the anticommunism generation. Choi explains one testimony from the female North Korean defector who had an experience with one senior in the anticommunism generation. When the senior met a female North Korean defector, the senior tried to check if she had horn on her head or not. Which became popular belief as during that generation there were many anti-communist propaganda taught in schools.

 

News Brief January 21-24, 2011

January 25, 2011 Leave a comment

News Briefs                                                                                                                                                   January 21, 2011

Pastor Gets 9 Years for Multiple Child Rape 

65 year old pastor Kang was sentenced to 9 years for raping an 11 year old girl and sexually molesting three other under-aged members of his congregation. Kang was also accused of taking sexual pictures of the victims and beating and threatening them. The court ruling stated that, “the defendant assaulted five teenagers by coercing them with his religious authority… He left serious, untreatable scars on the young victims.”

Labor Activists Continue Sit-ins through Subzero Temperatures 

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) is protesting against Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction (HHIC) in an attempt to force HHIC to end layoffs. Kim Jin-suk, a member of the direction committee of KCTU’s Busan office, is sitting-in a 35-meter high vessel crane at HHIC’s Yeongdo shipyard in subzero temperatures. HHIC received a court ruling to remove Kim from the site; however, Kim refused to end the protest. Friday marked Kim’s 15th sit-in day.

Government to Provide IT Training for Multicultural Families 

The Ministry of Public Administration and Security and the National Information Society Agency plans to provide IT training for 2,300 marriage migrants and 330 multicultural families. This new program is designed to aid migrants and multicultural families in adjusting to life in Korea by giving them the tools and opportunities needed.

NHRCK Calls for Human Rights in North Korea 

Korea’s National Human Rights Commission wishes to introduce legislation on North Korean human rights and enact an independent archive to investigate, collect, and record human rights violations in North Korea. A bill on situating and contextualizing human rights in North Korea remains pending in the National Assembly; however, human rights activists insist the bill is far too moderate to insight any actual changes in North Korea.

January 22, 2011

Government Rejects NHRCK’s Labor Recommendations 

The Ministry of Employment and Labor (MoEL) recently rejected the National Human Rights Commission of Korea’s (NHRCK) recommendation to reduce excessive governmental interference in labor union establishment procedures and the criteria on valid union members. In rejecting NHRCK’s recommendations, the government plans to continue to only permitting labor union activities within a stringent and restrictive framework. President Lee’s administration has also been accused of abusing current labor unions in using the system to suppress unions the administration does not agree with. The Seoul Administrative Court ruled in line with NHRCK’s recommendations; however, the MoEL remains adherent to its intolerant approach.

Former ‘Comfort Woman’s’ Last Wish 

Lee Ok-sun, 84, was 15 when she was kidnapped by the Japanese military and drafted to become a sex slave during Japan’s invasion of the Korean peninsula. IN 1996, Lee decided to publicize her experiences and began traveling the world, giving lectures on the sufferings of the ‘comfort women.’ Now, like most other former ‘comfort women,’ Lee is ailing; her heart and kidneys are failing, and her vision and hearing are impaired from the beatings she endured during her time as a ‘comfort woman.’ Lee’s last wish before she dies is to receive an apology from Japan to her and all other surviving former ‘comfort women.’

January 23, 2011

Lonely ‘Mart Kids’ Deprived of Proper Care 

Children playing in supermarkets during winter vacation were found to be lacking in proper parental care. Children staying at supermarkets from morning to late evening tended to avoid social contact and experts report that such children are shown little affection or care at home. Supermarket employees worry over the children’s safety as there are no adults with the children; employees also fear that the children may be more vulnerable to crime as they remain unprotected throughout the day and evenings.

North Korean Defector Turned Freedom Fighter through Art 

Song Byeok, 42, defected in 2002 and now uses his artwork to depict difficulties of life in North Korea. Song stated that he was now free of the ‘brainwashing’ he experienced in North Korea. “For a long time, I honestly believed Kim was a great leader and that my country was better off than others,” Song said. Song’s art often caricaturizes North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il and his regime; Song stated that he now wants “to devote [his] art to letting the world know that everyone, including North Koreans, deserves to be free.”

January 24, 2011

Budget Cuts for Seoul’s Cultural Programs 

The Seoul Metropolitan Government stated that foreigners wishing to participate in Seoul’s cultural programs will have to wait as Seoul’s cultural programs receive budget cuts. The programs will be available for 1,740 foreigners through 30 events this year, down from 2,591 available slots for 37 events last year. This year, the government will combine several programs together in order to accommodate budget cuts.

Ministry of Employment and Labor Rejects Recommendation from NHRCK 

The Ministry of Employment and Labor has recently released a statement rejecting the recommendation submitted by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) to include the unemployed and recently laid off employees in the National Labor Union and Relations Law. The Ministry replied stating that including this group the law would lose its exclusiveness in protecting those working.

Gwangju to Build Democratic and Peace Human Rights Center on Former Prison Site 

On the 21st of January, over 100 members of various civic organizations met in Gwangju, city in Southwest of Seoul, to present the “Human Rights City Gwangju Proposal”. The proposal states the various programs it plans to carry out to make Gwangju the main hub representing Human Rights in South Korea. As the first steps it was proposed to build a Democratic and Peace Human Rights Center on a former prison site in Gwangju.

NHRCK Propose Letter Exchange Program Between Separated Families  

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) released a statement on the 21st that they plan to promote a letter exchange program between separated families in South and North Korea. It was indicated that the letter exchange program goes along the lines of their “Roadmap for the Improvement of North Korean Human Rights” released earlier this year.