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The Fight for Gender Equality and Peace in South Korea Following Presidential Election

In the lead-up to South Korea’s recent election, conservative People Power Party candidate Yoon Suk-yeol repeatedly denied that women face inequalities – despite the fact that women’s economic participation in South Korea is comparatively low. Following Suk-yeol’s election as President of South Korea on 9 March 2022, women activists are mobilising and organising for a future of peace, justice, and equality.

Image credit: Derek Brumby
WILPF International Secretariat
22 March 2022

Activists in South Korea are standing strong in their push for peace and gender equality following the recent election of conservative People Power Party leader Yoon Suk-yeol as President of South Korea.  

“Leading up to the election I thought he might win. I was still shocked and now reality has set in,” says Kim Jeongsoo, a representative with Women Making Peace, an organisation working to advance reunification and peace in the Korean peninsula. “Still, I remain proud of our democracy, of what we’ve been trying to establish so far. I know our democracy is precious; we have to try and keep it and continue our movement.” 

Violence, discrimination, and oppression: Life for women in South Korea 

Organisations like Women Making Peace and other advocates for women’s rights in South Korea understand the brutal realities that women in the country have faced for decades. 

“Since the 1970s, our society has been striving for gender equality through the women’s civil society movement,” says Youngmi Cho, executive director with the Korean Women’s Movement for Peace. “Nevertheless, the gender wage gap with female employment rate reaches 36 per cent and the participation rate of women’s economic activities is also lower than that of the average of other developed countries.” 

South Korea’s culturally dominant patriarchal ideologies have made it difficult for women to balance work and family. Women will often leave their jobs after marriage in a culture that has tended to consider housework and childcare as ‘women’s work.’ At the same time, men (and only men) are forced to serve in the military under inhumane conditions, further fostering a culture of male dominance and even deeper resentments of women by men. Rising house prices and cost-of-living in a currently struggling economy have also been used by conservative politicians and other leaders to encourage gender division. 

Women are also facing growing rates of domestic and sexual violence, and other violations like the illegal filming of women in restrooms, hotel rooms, and other spaces where women expect to have privacy and safety. Illegal filming has been on the rise and has increased by close to 90 per cent in just over five years.  

Women are also underrepresented in leadership across business, government, and other spheres of society. While the Moon administration increased the proportion of female ministers and women’s participation in decision-making bodies by government ministries, men still represent the majority in these spaces. 

A divisive presidential campaign 

In recent years, some progress has been made for women in South Korea. 

The Women, Peace and Security agenda established through the UN’s Security Council Resolution 1325 and UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) both mandate women’s inclusion and women’s equal participation with men. These have had an important influence on Korean society and movements to establish a gender-equal society, including through national action plans. South Korea’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family has sought to address sexual violence, domestic violence, prostitution, at-risk youth protection, and youth and family support through policy. A number of acts and other legislative frameworks have also contributed to establishing women’s peace and security policies.  

Yet, Yoon Suk-yeol’s campaign rhetoric and public statements have stood in opposition to feminist and peace progress in Korea. In the run-up to his narrow victory, aided largely by votes from men, and particularly young men, the conservative party leader blamed South Korea’s low birth rates on the feminist movement; championed the abolishment of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family; declared that there was no structural discrimination of women and that women’s liberation had effectively been achieved; and promised punitive measures for women deemed to have made false accusations of sexual violence against men – something that could actually deter many women from reporting sexual violence.  

“He actively used the degenerative and fictional frame of hate agitation and ‘gender conflict’ rather than a policy and vision of equality for women and minorities,” says Cho. “This is likely to reverse the path to gender equality and the progress that has been made through the women’s movement to date.” 

Yoon Suk-yeol’s apparent peace-by-force versus peace-first approach regarding conflict with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and in alliance with United States military policies and systems will only provoke further tensions and conflict in Korea, activists say. The president-elect has notably opposed an end-of-war declaration with North Korea and has instead championed CVID (the “complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement” of North Korea’s nuclear program), expecting that North Korea will hand over its nuclear weapons first and without any peace agreement or assurances from South Korea and the United States. 

War and conflict (and even peace negotiations and post-war reconstructions) very typically facilitate the exclusion, oppression, and discrimination of women as well as gender-based violence. As such, Yoon Suk-yeol’s conflict strategies not only pose a threat to the peace, safety, and security of all Korean citizens, but very specifically and directly to Korean women and girls. 

Where do we go from here? 

A call to knowledge-sharing, perseverance, unity, and coordinated, collective action across all women’s rights and peace movements in Korea is taking centre stage in the wake of Yoon Suk-yeol’s election.  

“It is necessary to apply pressure for all of Korea to comply with international laws and also monitor CEDAW reports,” says Cho. “I think international cooperation and advocacy on how women, peace, and security agendas are being realised need to be shared and that it is possible to collect the voices of women in all conflict areas to engage in joint actions.” 

WILPF consultant and Korea Peace Now! representative YouKyoung Ko adds that activism at the local, grassroots level and shared action can have impact. 

“It’s important for international civil society organisations to support grassroots experiences,” says Ko. “Women’s activism and strategies in other countries that have experienced war and conflict have helped me to develop my own strategies for activism. We need to mobilise and organise for peace in Korea; to show collective will and power; and we need to include the experiences of voices of all women and other minorities, including working classes.” 

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WILPF International Secretariat

WILPF is a worldwide non-governmental organisation dedicated to bringing together women from around the world who are united in working for peace. Our approach is always non-violent, and we use existing international legal and political frameworks to achieve fundamental change in the way states conceptualise and address issues of gender, militarism, peace, and security.

Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

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WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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