South Korea failing to stamp out workplace gender discrimination

Receiving inappropriate comments and not being valued for their work are some of the pervasive challenges faced by women.
By: | September 13, 2023

The workplace environment for women is South Korea has come under scrutiny following the release of a survey conducted by Embrain Public on behalf of non-profit organisations Gapjil 119 and the Beautiful Foundation.

The survey findings reveal a stark gender disparity, with women experiencing inappropriate comments or remarks three to four times more frequently than their male counterparts. Furthermore, 55.9% of women reported being addressed or referred to in inappropriate terms, a rate 4.5 times higher than that of men, who reported incidents at a rate of 12.4%.

The survey specifically highlighted terms like “ajumma” (a Korean word for middle-aged woman) and “agassi” (similar to “miss”), which, while not inherently sexist, can carry derogatory connotations offensive to women. Low-wage female employees were found to be particularly vulnerable to such mistreatment, with 46.2% of those earning under 1.5 million won (US$1,132) per month reporting such incidents, compared to only 16.4% of those earning over 5 million won (US$3,774) per month.

The discrimination extended to sexist remarks and stereotypical duties, with 45.1% of women reporting hearing sexist remarks from colleagues and 44.8% feeling unfairly tasked with duties like preparing coffee. These numbers were over three times higher than those reported by men. Furthermore, 28.7% of women reported receiving inappropriate comments about their physical appearance, compared to only 10.1% of men.

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The survey also unveiled an issue of unwanted romance advances, with 11% of women experiencing this form of sexual harassment from colleagues, compared to only 3.4% of men.

These findings also underscore the gender pay gap problem in South Korea, where one in four women reported feeling discriminated against during job recruitment (24.4%) and in terms of pay (25.1%). In contrast, only 7.6% of men reported similar experiences of discrimination in these areas, reported The Korea Herald