No gender discrimination

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No gender discrimination

South Korean military women have another common enemy - unwanted sexual contact from and discrimination by men higher up the chain of command.

A female captain in one frontline unit committed suicide, leaving a note saying that she could no longer tolerate the humiliating sexual harassment and advances from her direct superior. A pregnant female officer at another base on the frontline died of her excessive workload. Even in the elite Korea Military Academy, a senior male cadet sexually assaulted his female junior.

Sexual abuse has sharply risen in parallel with the increasing number of servicewomen in the Korean military. According to the Defense Ministry, reports of sexual abuse jumped to 453 cases last year, compared with 329 in 2009. The data suggests that the military has not taken adequate measures or made enough efforts to protect the human rights of its female members together with its plan to increase women in the military.

The Ministry of National Defense has announced plans to increase the amount of women in the military from the current 1 percent of the total military manpower to 7 percent of commissioned officers and 5 percent of noncommissioned officers by 2020. The increase is needed in part to compensate for the decline in military recruitment caused by the decrease in the overall number of young people in Korea. But military authorities have stopped short of taking the precautions needed for that increase in female recruits.

Protection from gender discrimination and sexual abuse is rudimentary in the male-dominated, top-down military culture. Military authorities should have paid special attention to prevent harassments and other abuses against the female members in that exclusive society. But so far, they have been busier trying to cover up the scandals instead of thoroughly investigating and correcting them. Policy makers are not even aware of the serious human rights dangers faced by female officers in the military.

Immediate and concrete actions must be taken. Senior-level officers must first be thoroughly educated to respect women and their rights. There must be a variety of channels to allow servicewomen to easily report abuse and seek help. Military authorities all should be held accountable for the victim who took her own life after her complaints and protests about sexual harassments for as long as 10 months fell on deaf ears.

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