korea project

We protest the court's decision on the female teacher case

May 29, 2005


On May 26, 2005, the Seoul high court of justice ruled that a case involving a vice schoolmaster's forcing a female teacher, Ms. Yi., into serving him while drinking (pouring drinks for him to be exact) could not be considered sexual harassment. This was in line with the Seoul administration court's decision against the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which had considered the act an irrefutable case of harassment.

The following women's groups, along with the Korean Teachers and Education Workers' Union (KTU), have issued this statement to express our concerns and outrage.

The first court's decision was made on the basis that the vice schoolmaster Mr. Kim seemed to have demanded the service in return for his pouring drinks for the teachers first, and that this could not be construed as against Korean customs.

However, it is an irrefutable example of harassment for superiors to use their position to push their juniors into filling their own glasses when this makes the teacher feel ashamed.

In our society, where an office get-together at a bar is considered part of the job description in practically every field of work, women are often exposed to situations of harassment. The distorted and insulting sexual culture of work places, combined with the custom of getting together to drink, is imposed on women mostly by male superiors whose power is based on hierarchy and sexism. The result is that female subordinates are deprived of their independence and right as an employee to work in a free and comfortable atmosphere. The decision that forcing the junior colleague to fill the superiorís glass is an acceptable practice is oblivious of this and represents yet another violation of women's rights.

Whether or not a certain act is a case of sexual harassment should be decided by how it is perceived by the person at the receiving end, not by tradition. The court's decision goes against this common sense and is presumptuous, as it makes a decision regarding the teacherís feelings.

The Northern Seoul branch of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers' Union (KTU) surveyed some 800 female teachers in the North Seoul area in 2002 and found that about 40 percent of those teaching in elementary schools and 24 percent of those in middle schools had experienced being pressured to sit next to and fill glasses for principals and vice principals. What is surprising is that despite the general idea that young people can express their feelings well and have no problem saying 'no', in fact the teachers in their twenties had above-average rates of experiencing the situation (49 percent filling glasses, 44 percent sitting next to principals/vice principals). The rate of female teachers who answered that they reluctantly served male superiors not to spoil the atmosphere was as high as 40 percent. This speaks volumes as to how the management still doesn't consider junior staff members' service to be problematic.

The court should be held responsible for offering the basis for further rationalization of sexual harassment in the name of social customs, ignoring female teachersí and workers' resentment.

The undersigned KTU and women's groups strongly protest the court's anachronistic decision, calling it irresponsible in opposing the social consensus on sexual harassment, and demand that the court justices wake up.

May 29, 2005
KTU, Korean Women's Associations United (KWAU), Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, Korean Women's Trade Union, Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center, Korean Women Workers Associations United, Korean Womenlink, Korea Women's Hot Line