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Sex discrimination still widespread issue in South Korean workplace: Survey

SEOUL – South Korean women face widespread sex discrimination in the workplace, experiencing inappropriate comments or remarks three to four times more frequently than men, a new survey has found.

The poll was conducted online by Embrain Public on behalf of non-profit organisations Gapjil 119 and the Beautiful Foundation between Aug 2 and 10.

It surveyed 1,000 working adults, including 435 women.

Of the respondents, 55.9 per cent of women reported being addressed or referred to in inappropriate terms, a rate 4½ times higher than that of men.

The terms specifically noted in the survey, “ajumma” (a Korean word for a middle-aged woman) and “agassi” (a Korean word for a young woman similar to “Miss”), while not inherently sexist, can carry derogatory connotations that are offensive or sexist to women.

Low-wage female workers were more likely to experience such mistreatment.

Almost half of the women who earn less than 1,500,000 won (S$1,536) per month reported such incidents.

Among those who earned more than 5,000,000 won per month, that figure was lower, at 16.4 per cent, the survey showed.

About 45 per cent of women reported hearing sexist remarks from colleagues.

A similar number felt they were unfairly tasked with stereotypical duties like preparing coffee.

These figures were more than three times higher than those reported by men.

About a third of women reported receiving inappropriate comments about their physical appearance, compared with only around 10 per cent of men.

Where sexual harassment is concerned, 11 per cent of women said they had received unwanted romantic advances from colleagues.

In contrast, the figure for men stood at only 3.4 per cent.

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The survey also highlighted the notable disparity in employment and income, serving as a reminder of South Korea’s deeply rooted gender pay gap problem.

One in four women reported feeling discriminated against, both during job recruitment and in terms of pay.

Only 7.6 per cent of men reported similar experiences in such situations.

The survey data aligns with other existing statistics.

According to 2021 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) data, South Korean women earn nearly one-third less than men.

This amounts to the largest gender pay gap among the 38 OECD member countries, where the average was 12 per cent.

South Korea has ranked at the bottom in the gender pay gap category since joining the OECD 27 years ago.

A World Bank report in March ranked it alongside Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Egypt and Syria in the category, with a score of 25 out of 100.

In another troubling sign for South Korea, which is struggling with the world’s lowest fertility rate, 11.5 per cent of female respondents reported facing discrimination for taking maternity or childcare leave, a rate four times higher than that of men.

“Underlying the issue of sexual violence in the workplace are numerous instances of workplace harassment,” said a representative from Gapjil 119, a non-profit dedicated to addressing workplace abuse.

“Since casual harassment and microaggressions can escalate into more serious crimes like stalking and sexual violence, we must come up with more effective approaches to address these issues at a fundamental level.” THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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