The controversial government poster on contraception. (Ministry of Health and Welfare)
After receiving public criticism for sexist content in a poster to promote birth control published last week, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said it is discarding the materials.
The ministry said it would develop new ways to promote birth control among young Koreans to boost the country’s notoriously low rate of contraceptive use.
“We acknowledge that there were problems and we are going to make changes,” Kim Sang-hyo from the ministry told The Korea Herald.
“New posters will be distributed by next week the earliest.”
South Korea has one of the lowest youth contraception rates in the world, while abortion remains illegal.
According to a 2010 research that surveyed a total of 5,253 young people aged 15 to 24 in 25 countries worldwide, only 26 percent of participating Koreans said they were fully aware of their birth control options and how to use them. This was much lower than the average rate of all 5,253 participants, which was 51 percent.
Forty-three percent of the surveyed Koreans said they were “not too sure” about how to use birth control, while 31 percent said they knew nothing about contraception.
The Welfare Ministry’s controversial poster features a young couple, with the man carrying his girlfriend’s pink handbag and six other bags after what appears to be a shopping trip. The smiling woman, on the other hand, is carrying nothing.
It reads, “Even though you leave everything to him, don’t leave the responsibility of contraception to him as well.”
Kim from the ministry explained that there are two versions for the poster, one targeting men and the other women.
“Since the poster is targeting young people, especially university students, we tried to make it funny,” he said.
“The one targeting young Korean men has the same sentence about ‘not leaving the responsibility to women.’ We have the same message for both men and women.”
The poster targeting men, obtained by The Korea Herald, looks exactly like the controversial one, with the same line ― except neither the man nor the woman are carrying any bags.
Kim said the ministry was scrapping both versions of the poster.
Women’s rights activists, however, think the Welfare Ministry is missing the point.
“I don’t think the Welfare Ministry understands why so many young people do not use birth control properly in this country,” said Kim Jin-seon from Womenlink, a local women’s rights group.
“It has to do with the culture that does not allow (young) people to talk about sex and contraception freely. They are not educated enough about their options. It should not be about women shifting their responsibility (of contraception) to men and vice versa. They are focusing on the wrong point here.”
This isn’t the first time the South Korean government has come under fire for sexist remarks in its published material.
Last month, the Ministry of Labor received criticism after publishing job interview tips for women online, which suggested women tell their potential employers they didn’t mind “casual jokes about sex.”
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org