The allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein together with social media’s #metoo phenomenon, where hundreds of thousands of women and girls spoke out about their experiences of being sexually harassed or assaulted, have struck a real chord in South Korea. Some South Korean women started sharing online their experiences of sexual harassment and assault, which triggered discussion and brought out accumulated anger and frustration. Yesterday, the South Korea government promised new measures to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace.
This is desperately needed.
South Korea has a serious problem with harassment and violence against women. It was recently ranked an abysmal 116 out of 144 countries when it came to gender equality. Footage emerged this week of nurses at a hospital allegedly forced to dance in skimpy outfits for visiting officials. In a recent survey, 80 percent of South Korean men said they had physically or psychologically abused a girlfriend. The country has the unhappy distinction of having the third-highest rate, at 52.5 percent, of female murder victims in the world – a fact attributed to the murder of women by intimate partners and the government’s failure to effectively enforce laws against domestic violence.
The government should do much more to address the problem. A 2015 survey by the South Korea government found that over 78 percent of sexual harassment victims in the workplace said they did not take any action to seek protection or redress but rather “put up with it.” Many women said they did not believe it was likely they’d get help even if they raised the case. The government’s sex education guidelines have been criticized by experts and civic groups for falling well short of what is needed to stem this crisis. An indication of just how out of touch the guidelines are is their suggestion, intended for high-school teachers, that women may risk rape if they go on dates with men that pay for an expensive meal as they may expect sex.
The government pledged this week to require all employers to provide anti-sexual harassment training, make it easier to report abuse, and hire specialized staff to handle complaints. It also promised tougher penalties for both perpetrators of harassment and abuse, and for employers who fail to respond appropriately to the new regulations.
These are positive steps but much more is needed. The government should follow through on its promise, consult with survivors, take strong measures to deter retaliation against complainants, and make these reforms part of a broader effort to promote gender equality and end tolerance of abuses against women.
From Hollywood to Seoul, it’s time for a change – because women are tired of putting up with abuse.