Korean women once enjoyed nearly equal legal status with men, but that changed over the course of the Chosun Dynasty, especially as Confucianism gained strength. During this period women were not to be seen by anyone outside the family and they remained confined at home. (One of the traditional games wherein young women stand on a kind of teeter-totter would allow girls to catch a glimpse of the world outside the walls of her home). The only time a woman could go out, albeit briefly, was in the evening. A bell would ring, warning men off the streets and women, cloaked from head to toe, would be allowed to run errands, etc.
Today, while Korean laws give women near equal status, they are often neither applied nor enforced. Change is happening, however. The majority of Korean women do go to university, today. However, when they graduate, even if their grades are higher than their male colleagues, they are unlikely to be hired at the same job or pay level. Women are still expected to make coffee and wipe the desks of their male colleagues. Companies still prefer to hire less-qualified males than invest in a woman who will leave when she marries or who will have family responsibilities that will prevent her working late or socializing with colleagues – in other words, she won’t be a good team member. Some Korean companies still pressure women to leave their jobs when they marry or when they are pregnant, although that is no longer considered 'normal' nor is it as widespread as it once was..
The glass ceiling is pretty low in Korea. According to government statistics, in in 2011, only 9.1% or 272 executives out of 2,993 state-run institutions were women. Only 16 of 288 public institutions had female chief executive officers, and 149 had no female executives. The Financial Services Commission, had only 1 female executive out of 109, less than 1%. The best was Korea Childcare Promotion Institute where 66.7 percent of the executives were women. (Note: In 2013, both ruling and opposition parties jointly proposed a bill to raise the ratio of female executives to 15 percent in public institutions in three years and to 30 percent in five years.) In the private sector the glass ceiling is even lower than in the public sector. South Korea currently has the lowest glass ceiling among advanced countries. (See the Gender Gap page for more details.)
In the case of divorce, custody is still often granted to the father, especially in the case of sons. The law granting fathers automatic custody and exempting them from financial responsibilities for their former wives and the children in her custody (should there be any) changed in the 1990’s. That said, some of the old thinking continues to be applied in some divorce situations.
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Last Updated on 2015-03-23
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