The objective of thisarticle is to analyse the South Korean women’s movement using the socialmovements theoretical perspectives.
The major theories dealt with in the paperare resource mobilization and framing theory. In order to understand the SouthKorean women’s movement, the paper builds on the resource mobilization model topresent how women’s groups in Korea mobilize resources, increase participationand achieve their organizational goals. It will also focus on the activities ofthe Korea Women’s Hot Line (KWHL) using the framing theory, to understand thegender frame it created in the 1970s and 80s.TheMovement: Resources and GrowthThe period of 1920s and30s was introduced as the harbinger of feminism in Korea. The feminist movementin Korea came to the forefront in the late 1980s. At that time, vigorousdemocratization movement against the military authoritarian regime was sweepingthe whole country. The Korean women’s movement was conditioned by the speed andlength of the democratic transition in Korea.
Initially, the issues of democratizationtook precedence over women’s concerns. However, once democratization set inpost political upheaval, women leaders soon began to push women’s issues inKorea. The women’s groups in Korea were successful post democratization sincethey chose to work with new institutions and parties, and not because theyoperated outside the conventional forms of institutional politics (Chin, 2000).The women’s movementwas not considered as an independent movement but rather as being under theprogressive democracy movement. This mainstream perception argued for theintegration of a feminist movement into the democratization movement, thesuccess of which will inevitably make way to women’s right and gender equality.The women’s movement or women’s liberation whereby ‘minjung’, the womenlabourers and marginalized people, were at the centre stage to unite with otherwomen in struggling against a ruling class in achieving liberation. That is,the site of class struggle was the only legitimate political field wherewomen’s experience acquired meaning.
Women’s weak politicalbase, which was evident from their weak political participation andrepresentation, required that their organizations cooperate with male-dominatedpolitical structure. Consequently, the most important impact of women’sorganizations had been on election campaigns where women’s electoral supportfor political parties was required in exchange for party support of women’slegislation.Although the Koreanwomen’s movement started during the 1900s (Chung, 1989), it was not until the1980s that women’s political participation was strengthened along with the massmovement for democratization. Prior to this, women’s organizations were not particularlyconcerned with issues relating to women’s rights and quality (Palley, 1990;Gelb & Palley, 1991). In addition to this, the early women’s movement waslimited to participation by middle and upper class women.The women’s movement inKorea reflects a mixture of the Western experience and Gelb’s model (accordingto Gelb’s model the state anticipates or co-opts women’s concerns into publicpolicy usually without noticeable pressure from women’s groups). In the contextof the Korean women’s movement, during the pre-democratization period women’sgroups were largely co-opted by the state mainly for publicity of its policies.
However, post democratization, women’s groups raised women’s issues, becamemore influential, and were seeking alliances with the state.The women’sorganizations since the 1970s concentrated their efforts on improvement inwomen’s working conditions which was a necessary approach during the rapid industrializationand modernization period which led to an increased role of women’s labour.Later, in the early 1990s, women’s organizations worked together with the governmentsto prepare law to prevent sexual violence. The overall goals of the Koreanwomen’s organizations during and after the 1990s was to promote a legislativereform movement to achieve sexual equality by changing public attitudes andconsciousness as well as get involved in local community activities andenvironmental issues.One of the main reasonsfor the flourishing of the women’s rights movements during the ’80s rather thanthe ’70s was due to changes in women’s resources. The rise of womenintellectuals and workers during the ’70s led to the emergence of active womenwho eventually joined the democratization movement and ultimately contributedto push women’s legislation in the late 1980s.
The burgeoning increase of womenintellectuals and women workers were the movement’s most important resource inthe 1970s. The miserable working conditions of women labourers due to rapidindustrialization and economic development led women intellectuals to showsconcern on their behalf. Before democratization, women lacked autonomous powerfor making their issues a part of the public agenda. However, by making use ofthe political opportunities andjoining the democratization movement, they expanded their power base during thetransition and hence created a platform from which they could further raise concernsover women’s issues.