Originally published by Reach the World, December 11, 2015
*This is my attempt at adapting a complicated topic for an elementary audience. I address the complexity of gender issues in Korea in some of my other blog posts.
Although South Korea has one of the best economies and education systems in the world, it suffers from gender inequality. This means that men and women are not always treated the same way. Compared to men, it is harder for women to get jobs, and many women are still expected to get married and raise families. The quality of life for working women in Korea has improved a lot over the last few years, but there are still many ways for communities to make it better.
Before coming to Korea, I read a lot about the need for supporting Korean women’s goals, especially in school and the workforce. When I began teaching in my school, I learned about this need from my students themselves. For one of my class assignments, I asked students to write about their dream jobs. Some of the students wrote about how they expected to struggle in the workforce because they were girls. For example, one girl wrote, “I would like to be an engineer in a large company. The dream may be hard to achieve because mechanical engineering is popular with men, so I will be alone.” Another girl said, “I would like to be a world-class architect designer. The dream may be hard to achieve because my family opposes my dream and the field of my dream doesn’t want women.” While most of the teachers in the English department at my school are women, there are fewer women in fields like science and engineering. I learned that it is important for communities to provide support and encouragement for women to pursue all fields of education and work.
Historically, men and women in Korea had different roles in society. Men were more likely to work, and women were more likely to raise families. This has changed a lot, but women are still at a disadvantage in getting the jobs they want. One of my students told me, “I would like to be a flight attendant. The dream may be hard to achieve because flight attendants have to be pretty.” Because many companies in Korea expect their employees to be pretty, some women have plastic surgery or buy expensive skincare products. The community must help develop women’s education and job skills so they will be judged for their skills and not their appearance.
Over the last few years, local communities and the government have created more programs designed to improve women’s education and job prospects. In Gimhae, the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association) provides programs and training for women and families. High schools also offer a science curriculum for boys and girls, and some organizations offer mentorship opportunities for young women. I am hopeful that these programs will show my female students that they can be anything they want to be in life!