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The Status of Women in South Korea

The status of women in South Korea has changed over time. Initially, Women had to be identified through their fathers or husbands. There were little work opportunities outside the home. Women also had less opportunity to seek a higher education. Since then, the status of women has increased in some aspects. When viewed from different lenses, there are many explanations as to why this status has changed for the good or the bad.

The earlier attitudes towards women were highly influenced by Confucian ideals in that women were not allowed to be independent and their main roles were to be caretakers of their homes and children. The family registry was submitted with the father being the head of household. When a woman married, she then was taken in to live in her husband’s household; often times under the strict supervision of her mother in-law and sisters in-law. Many women were not allowed to leave the confines of their home. Women in more rural areas had more

access to the world outside of their home out of necessity. Some women had to plant crops and sell homemade items in order to help sustain the family. There were laws the only allowed men to divorce his wife, but not the other way around. Religious ideals such as Confucianism also

helped to define a woman’s role as subordinate in the relationship between men and women. In

strict instances, women were not even allowed to converse with men. Historically, all of these aspects of culture created a very definitive role for the South Korean woman (Park, p.129).

Fast forward to present time, there are many things that have changed. Women can now work outside the home. Laws have been passed that grant women the right to divorce her husband and also to file as the head of household and not be singly identified on her father’s family register. With the economic boom of industrialization, there are many more opportunities for women to dwell in urban environments. The country as a whole is more wealth now than they have ever been. There is a woman President.

Despite all of these advances, there is a great gap in the way that men and women are viewed and treated in South Korean society. According a Global Gender Report given in 2012 by members on the World Economic Forum, Korea ranks low in many areas which illustrate the gender gap. Looking at factors such as health and education, it is interesting to see that compared to other parts of the world; South Korea has a ways to go. Its scores were: 116 in economic participation and opportunity, 99 in educational attainment, 78 in health and survival, and 86 in political attainment; with 136 being the highest gender gap score compared to other countries around the world (WEF, 2012).

The glass ceiling index found on is also an interesting compilation of data that shows

The glass ceiling index found on is also an interesting compilation of data that shows South Korea as one of the least desirable countries to be in for a working woman. According to the graph, South Korea is at 15% as far as having opportunities for women to be employed in professional or corporate jobs. Currently there are only a small amount of women that actually hold jobs in senior positions in the work force. Many women work in factories and in the entertainment industry (Economist, 2013).

There are many efforts to change policy that restricts the civil rights of women. There are also many organizations that are geared towards creating a shift in cultural attitudes. Republic of Korea is represented on the committee Membership of the Commission on the Status of Women; which is an organization under the United Nations.


Park, K.A. (1993) Women and Development: The Case of South Korea. The Economist Newspaper Limited, 2013. The Glass Ceiling Index. Retrieved from:

World Economic Forum (2012). Global Gender Gap Report. Retrieved from:

UN Women (2013). Retrieved from: