Published on September 27th, 2008 | by Gavin Hudson


Korean Women Say Birth Control is ‘Men’s Responsibility’


Birth control has become an important issue for woman’s rights as well as the environment. However, a survey of South Korean women age 19-34 found 45% believe contraception should be a man’s responsibility.

The survey, by the Study Group for Contraception, shows that most women are doing little or nothing to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Of the 1000 women who participated in the survey, one in five said she relied on coitus interruptus or timing pregnancy cycles as a form of birth control. Both methods have high failure rates of around 25%.

What’s more, abortion is illegal in South Korea, except under extenuating circumstances. The result is an almost entirely first-world country where each year hundreds of thousands of women practice illegal abortions at “don’t ask don’t tell” clinics.

In 2005, the government admitted that more than 340,000 illegal abortions had been carried out, while the number of child births for that year was around 476,000. These numbers suggest that one out of every 32 fertile women in South Korea is forced into having an illegal abortion.

Only 4.8% in the survey felt birth control was a woman’s responsibility.

However, not surprisingly, women may not be to blame for their lack of involvement in reproductive rights. The attitude can also be seen as a carry-over from the country’s male-dominated Confucian culture, which exerts significant control over female sexuality. While Korean men are generally expected to gain sexual experience before marriage, women are simply expected to practice abstinence until marriage. Those who don’t have little chance to talk openly about sex.

The “don’t ask don’t tell” policy of abortion clinics reflects a general attitude that shuns sexually active women. At the same time, this “open secrecy” enables a greater number of illicit sexual encounters for men. Just as illegal abortion clinics operate in the open, illegal brothels are also easily recognized by red lights, tinted windows, and sometimes even buskers.

Women in the Western culture may see this as an unfair double standard. One foreign woman I talked with told me that when she tried to gain access to birth control pills, which are available without prescription at the pharmacy, she was told, “only certain kinds of women take those pills.” Attitudes like these are changing, especially in metropolitan areas, but in South Korea they are still the norm.

To support or learn more about women’s reproductive rights, visit organizations like Ipas or Family Care International.

Read More About Parenting, Population, and Birth Control on the Green Options Network

Sources and additional reading: The Korea Times, Reuters, The Legacy Lingers On:
Korean Confucianism and the Erosion of Women’s Rights [PDF]

Image credit: mahalie via Flickr, under a Creative Commons license.

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About the Author

Gavin blogs from Zurich, Switzerland. His day job is Digital Media Communications Manager for ABB. Previously, he lived and worked in South Korea, blogging, editing and freelance writing for Green Options and PV Magazine. Gavin's favorite environmental work has included: co-founding the grassroots Nature Conservation Club at about age 8; interning for the Jane Goodall Insitute's Roots & Shoots (R&S) program; representing R&S at the World Social Forum VI in Caracas, Venezuela; volunteering at the Marine Mammal Center of Sausalito; being a research assistant for a CAL lab studying climate change in Colorado; bicycling lots.

11 Responses to Korean Women Say Birth Control is ‘Men’s Responsibility’

  1. It has always struck me odd, that men in some cultures are encouraged to have sex before marriage where women are not.

    Then who exactly are the unwed men supposed to have sex with? Married women?

  2. Joelius says:

    It’s a thing of virginity guys aren’t noticeably different after sex. That being said prostitution I think is legal and there are always the few women in those cultures who have sex with most of the men.

  3. rose says:

    This is totally untrue. Abortion is illegal only when the baby is too developed to abort without harming the mother (after 2 or 3 months of being pregnant). Also, men are incouraged to have sex before they’re married but so are the women. South koreans do NOT shun sexually active women. please get your facts straight.

    • guest says:

      With all due respect, Rose.. Women that are sexually active certainly are discriminated against. There is a lot of societal pressures for girls to be "pure" and virginal. You can't even get the pill over the counter without people starring at you.

      Do you know why there are so many South Korean babies that are put up for overseas adoption? It's because single unwed mothers are discriminated against. 90% of the babies sent overseas to the US come from single mothers. These mothers have trouble getting jobs and just living.

      Furthermore, abortions are still illegal.

      I'm not sure where you get your facts from, but I've been living and working in Korea for some time now.

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