Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Status of Women in Korea and the Sex Industry

This Chosun Ilbo article points to a recent report from the U.S. State Department noting the widespread existence of prostitution in South Korea, despite anti-prostitution and anti-trafficking laws passed in 2004. The article also noted that sex tourism by Koreans in China and Southeast Asia is becoming more prevalent.

Many articles posted on the class blog (by Sean and Grace) have commented on the increase in international marriages, particuluarly between Korean men and Southeast Asian women.
International marriages have increased from 10% in 2005 to 14% in 2006. Both postings commented on the challenges this poses for these foriegn brides entering an ethnically homogenous society and how Korean soceity will have to grapple with national attitudes discriminating against non-ethnic Korean members of soceity. I'm interested in the link between development and both the marriage and sex industries.

As the status of women in Korea has improved (as evidenced by equal employment laws, anti-gender discrimination laws and the anti-prostitution law of 2004), the marriage rate and fertility rate has declined and the average marriage age for women has increased (to 27.5) -- all coinciding with the development of the Korean economy. Likewise, the passage of anti-prostitution legislation has pushed the sex industry underground and abroad. It has also led to the import of foriegn women from developing countries to work in the sex industry, stigmatizing many non-Korean women.

Although not directly related to the comfort women issue, I think these issues can be seen as an extension of one of Pyong-Gap Min's points in "Korean 'Comfort Women:' The Intersection of Colonial Power, Gender, and Class." Min writes on the continuing intersection of these variables in the postwar era, noting how lower-class women in Asia have worked in sex toursim industry by serving Japanese and Western businessmen (953). Power and class on a global scale coincides with gender as sex tourism and marriage has become an international option for Korean men as the Korean economy has developed.

On another note linking development with women's rights in Korea, it seems like many of the advancements made by women (including the public testimonials of surviving comfort women) occured in the early 1990s. Women's rights were an afterthought until the Korean economy had developed substantially and democracy became much more of Korea's political reality.

1 comment:

Erin Robinson said...

I think it's important to note that none of these conditions are unique to Korea. Japan continues to experience many of the same women's rights issues, as evidenced by the most recent controversy surrounding one of Abe's ministers, who believes that, if I remember correctly, women must change their name when they marry. Other difficulties in Japan include the difficulty of balancing a job and motherhood, given that once a woman leaves a job, it is virtually impossible to reenter the fulltime job world.

I think it would be interesting to see in Korea, what the majority of women believe they should be, and what the majority of men believe that women should be (what societal positions they hold). I was talking to a friend last night, who is Korean-American, and she said that she refused to date Korean boys because all they wanted were trophy wives. How much of that is America, and how much of that is a societal view on the appropriate position of women?