Increasing number of "female-only" spaces in South Korea

SEOUL: South Korea has been seeing an increasing number of female-only spaces, ranging from study cafes, "gosiwon" or dormitory-style flats, guest houses and shared offices to camping sites.

Experts have said that the rise in such places is attributed mainly to a sense of giving better protection and privacy to women.

According to a Korea Times report, gender segregation can also be found in government policies and that many such places have mushroomed this year.

A camping site in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province, was opened in May and it is open only to women who want to enjoy a quiet and peaceful experience in the absence of men.

In June, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport allowed taxi ride-sharing services for the first time after the practice was prohibited in 1982. However, except for van-type cabs which accommodate five passengers and more, ride-sharing is limited only between people of the same sex.

The ministry explained that this was aimed at alleviating people's anxiety from sharing a ride with a stranger, as well as concerns of potential crimes.

The report also said that experts felt the main reason why more women were opting for single-sex facilities was due to the fear of becoming a victim of sex offenses such as voyeurism, stalking and rape, which have surged in recent years.

"It is regretful that women search for such spaces and are willing to spend money specifically to stay away from men. But at the same time, it shows how our society has been failing to provide a safe environment for them," said Yun Ji-yeong, a professor of philosophy at Changwon National University and an expert on gender-related issues.

"Women are very concerned about becoming the targets of gender-based crimes which seem to take place anywhere, anytime. Illegal filming using hidden cameras, for instance, occurs not only in public restrooms, but also in places like libraries, hotels, or even at home," she explained.

South Korea's police said that since 2017, about 5,000 cases of illegal filming with the use of hidden cameras have been occurring each year.

According to Shin Kyung-ah, a professor of sociology at Hallym University, it was a fact that women were more vulnerable to violent crimes than men.

She said data showed that over 80 per cent of victims of violent crimes were female.

"In that sense, women-only spaces seem to offer respite from such concerns," said the former head of the Korea Association of Women's Study.

"The necessity of some women-only facilities like parking spaces is debatable. However, when it comes to places like houses where we spend most of our time, everyone should feel secure and protected," she added.

Both experts said the popularity of women-only places would persist unless gender-based violence and crimes were eradicated in the country.

"The separation of genders is not a fundamental solution. What women need more are robust laws and measures to tackle gender-based violence along with adequate protection measures."

However, the Times report said some women-only spaces have drawn backlash from men who feel excluded.

In 2020, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea pointed out that a provincial library in Jecheon, North Chungcheong Province, which was open only to women, is inherently sexist and thus violates basic human rights.

It said this after a petition was filed by men's rights groups.

The library, which started in 1994, was only for women in line with the wishes of the person who funded its construction.

Since the human rights commission's recommendation, the library started allowing men to enjoy some of its services.

Meanwhile, women-only parking spaces that were introduced by the Seoul city government in 2009 will soon be made into "family-prioritised spaces".

The parking spots will be designated for families with children, pregnant women or people with disabilities.

The move comes after the parking spots ignited debates over its efficiency.

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