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[Newsmaker] Too soon to draft women into military: Defense Ministry

Army conscripts sing a marching song at a basic training graduation ceremony in Gwangju, Jan. 8, 2020. (Yonhap)
Army conscripts sing a marching song at a basic training graduation ceremony in Gwangju, Jan. 8, 2020. (Yonhap)
Conscripting women into the armed forces now would be premature, the Ministry of National Defense said Tuesday, amid fresh debate about making military service compulsory for both women and men.

At present, all able-bodied men in South Korea are required to serve in the military or complete an alternative public service program. Women can join the military as officers or noncommissioned officers.

“Expanding conscription isn’t a yes-no, black-and-white question because we need to look at a lot of factors,” ministry spokesperson Boo Seung-chan said, adding that the ministry would need social consensus on the change and confidence that it would help build a stronger military.

Rep. Park Yong-jin of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea recently proposed bringing women into the military as one of his campaign pledges for the 2022 presidential election.

Park proposed an all-volunteer military open to both men and women. Those who choose not to enlist would be required to undergo 100 days of basic military training to ensure a strong reserve force, he added.

The proposal, which some see as an attempt to woo younger male voters increasingly growing discontent with what they see as a unilateral burden, has fueled debate on gender equality in the military.

Rep. Kwon In-sook, a ruling party lawmaker on the National Assembly’s Gender Equality and Family Committee, said she was open to discussing an all-volunteer military, but was wary of conscripting women. Kwon, who previously led a government think tank on gender studies, did not elaborate.

But she referred to a survey by the think tank on the issue, in which 53.7 percent of female respondents said they would be willing to serve in the military. The survey, carried out by the Korean Women’s Development Institute in 2019, found 6 out of 10 male and female respondents alike supported women being drafted.

Kim Eun-ju, director of the Center for Korean Women and Politics, said she was positive on the notion of drafting women as long as the discussion dealt with the unfair treatment that working women had to go through while raising children.

Child-rearing, which often falls disproportionately on women, is just as much a matter of public interest as conscription, and the two issues should be discussed together if the military intends to revamp its conscription policies, which have been in place for decades, Kim said.

“Forcing women into conscription just out of spite is something we should avoid,” she said.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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