COVID-19's Impact on South KoreaOriginating from Asia, it is no surprise that COVID-19 has affected many Asian countries. However, there is one prominent country that has persevered despite the drastic impacts of the pandemic — South Korea. Shrouded in technology, entertainment and education, South Korea has transformed itself from a lower-developed economy to a high-income leader in innovation. COVID-19 has impacted South Korea for better and for worse. Here are six facts about COVID-19’s impact on South Korea.

6 Facts About COVID-19’s Impact on South Korea

  1. With a strong economic connection to China, South Korea was one of the first countries to report coronavirus cases. Forty days after South Korea’s first case on January 20, 2020, the country confirmed close to 1,000 cases. The cases only increased in number due to inadequate understanding of the severity of the virus. Therefore, after this spike, the country made great efforts to contain the outbreak and educate its citizens. For instance, South Korea successfully implemented mandatory masking and accessible testing as well as advanced contact tracing. Currently, although there were more than 269,000 COVID-19 cases in South Korea as of September 10, 2021, the country has a contrasting number of around 2,300 total deaths.
  2. Multiple countries praise South Korea’s well-executed plan to persist during the pandemic. Korea is notable for these concepts: early plan, speed and awareness. To begin with, there was an immediate and early response to the first case, allowing for fast prevention. Also, the government focused on moving quickly in implementing COVID-19 regulations and notifying the public with information and safety guidelines. Hence, internationally, South Korea became a top model for dealing with the virus.
  3. To prevent the spread of the virus, the world and South Korea limited travel. Travel in and out of South Korea decreased significantly along with tourism. The OECD has stated that these financial risks of limited travel can lead to rising unemployment, which can be detrimental to those in poverty. Korea’s exports have reduced as well, decreasing dramatically as China started shutting down certain systems for safety and health purposes. For instance, in April 2020, 24.3% of exports dropped and caused many losses. In response, South Korea developed a plan called the Korea New Deal in order to invest in advanced technology and the well-being of workers.
  4. South Korea has one of the highest rates of elderly poverty. Most elderly South Koreans sell box scraps, run street food stations and clean unsanitary areas to survive. Thus, the country implemented stronger social protection and stable labor market regulations. South Korea also implemented safe social distancing procedures in 250,000 jobs.
  5. The eruption of COVID-19 negatively impacted many lives but accelerated research efforts. Multiple health authorities collaborated in private laboratories to uncover the efficacy of contact tracing, rapid regulatory tests and screening clinics. The country attempted several data tests and experiments, and in doing so, South Korea discovered more about the actual SARS-CoV-2 and better prevention methods. Scientific and mechanical technology has also improved for the better and advancements have become more rapid. Therefore, seemingly, COVID-19’s impact on South Korea includes more than direct health-related scenarios.
  6. Leaders of South Korea prioritize providing the public with current and up-to-date information and distinct guidelines on how to prevent infection. According to Exemplars in Global Health, South Korea was able to respond fast to COVID-19 due to its experience with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) back in 2015, which presented a similar health crisis. To fight misinformation during the pandemic, authorities are focusing on providing the nation with regular and accurate COVID-19 information.

Concluding Thoughts

COVID-19’s impact on South Korea comes with twists and turns, however, although there are many troubles, the country has solutions. History has seen South Korea rise up from its colonization to a booming economy. This East Asian country is now attempting to prevent an increase in COVID-19 cases through a comprehensive plan.

The virus is mutating and the Delta variant is only worsening countries’ conditions. As a result, the mask mandates that South Korea recently lifted are back in place. However, South Korea’s progress and plans so far indicate that it is well-prepared to mitigate any further consequences of COVID-19.

– Minjae Eum
Photo: Flickr

Suzy's Philanthropic EffortsK-pop idol and actress Bae Suzy, known professionally as Suzy, has made a name for herself in the Korean media industry. The star made her K-pop debut in 2010 and has since transitioned into acting, performing in highly rated K-dramas. In addition to her successes in the entertainment industry, Suzy has also worked to impact others with her philanthropy. Over the years, Suzy has donated to various charities, hoping to alleviate poverty in South Korea.

A History of Donations

One of Suzy’s most notable donations was to the Community Chest of Korea. The Community Chest of Korea is a national network of 16 locally governed organizations. The network works to improve conditions and empower the undeserved through sharing within the community. It is Korea’s largest community impact charity. Suzy has donated more than $100,000 to the organization. It recognized Suzy’s philanthropic efforts when she was made the seventh overall entertainer to join the society.

Another organization that Suzy has donated to is the Babo Nanum foundation. The organization announced that Suzy donated $42,087.90 to its Stars Filled with Dreams campaign. This campaign aims to help children achieve their dreams through education. In particular, Suzy sought to help those who had been affected financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. She had previously donated to other COVID-19 related charities; earlier, she donated $84,175.80 dollars to the Good Neighbors charity, which aids low-income families during the pandemic.

A Variety of Goals through Philanthropy

In addition to the Babo Nanum Foundation, Suzy has donated to other children’s charities. Children’s Day is on May 5 and is considered a national holiday in Korea. This year, the star made headlines for her generous $89,200 gift to the Happy Sharing Taekwondo Federation in honor of the holiday. Happy Sharing Taekwondo Federation is a volunteer organization centered around the principles of support and the sport of taekwondo. The organization will use the money to help less fortunate children in orphanages and young adults who child welfare institutions no longer protect. Her support has also extended to single mothers — she has previously donated $18,584 to the Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network.

Suzy’s philanthropic efforts make impacts across South Korea. She has previously donated $8,520 to a charity managed by the Buk District Council of Gwangju, her hometown community. She has also donated $12,600 to low-income families through the Life Share Association. The organization used the donated money to benefit low-income households by providing daily necessities. She has also donated $84,343 to the International Relief and Development NGO Good Neighbors and the Hope Bridge National Disaster Relief Association. Suzy made these donations last year after torrential rain caused flooding in South Korea. She has also donated about $80,000 to Gangwon Province after forest fires left many people homeless.

Working for a Better Korea

While Korean media has become popular overseas, poverty in South Korea remains prevalent. As of 2019, the poverty rate in Korea was 16.7%. Part-time and dispatched workers, along with the elderly, typically struggle more to earn or secure their financial lives relative to others. Suzy’s philanthropic efforts serve to support the economically emerging nation. Fans around the world eagerly await to see where the philanthropic entertainer will donate next.

– Carly Johnson
Photo: Wikimedia

offshore wind farmSouth Korea’s government announced plans to construct an 8.2 gigawatt “offshore wind facility by 2030.” Once completed, the project will stand as “the world’s largest single offshore development.” The project comes with economic and environmental advantages for South Korea. In order to help the economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the offshore wind farm will increase revenue and energy production. The plan forms part of President Moon Jae-in’s Green New Deal project. The Green New Deal began in 2020 and will help Asia’s fourth-largest economy reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

Offshore Wind Farm Funding and Benefits

The offshore wind facility project has already garnered significant funding. Several companies have contributed $42.4 billion to the project and the government will cover $802 million of the cost. In addition to generating renewable energy, the offshore wind project will create 5,600 jobs in the area. It will also extend South Korea’s “existing 1.67GW wind power capacity to 16.5GW by 2030.”

South Korean officials state that the wind energy facility “will produce energy equivalent to the output of six nuclear reactors.” The project has garnered significant support around the country due to its many benefits. A signing ceremony recently occurred for the new wind project in Sinan, a coastal town in the southwest region of the country. The offshore wind farm project is predicted to make an impressive impact on the country’s economy due to citizen, government and fiscal support.

Economic Impact of COVID-19 on South Korea

South Korea’s early response to the COVID-19 pandemic was successful as early testing and containment of the virus limited spread. However, the virus caused an economic recession due to halted business operations, closed borders and restricted mobility. For the first time since 2003, South Korea fell into a “technical recession.” In the first quarter of 2020, South Korea’s GDP declined by 1.3% followed by a second quarter decline of 3.3%.

The recession was caused greatly by a lack of demand for South Korean exports. Exports make up about 40% of the country’s GDP, so without the typically high supply and demand for products, South Korea’s economy was hard-hit. The economic decline also led to job losses across multiple sectors such as services, travel, hospitality, retail and manufacturing. As a consequence, South Koreans experienced harsh economic impacts, especially those already in poverty.

How Wind Power Improves Poverty

Despite South Korea’s status as a large world economy with high rankings in terms of education and healthcare, it still has a high poverty rate. The OECD ranked South Korea fifth among 33 countries for relative income poverty, with a rate of 16.7%. Relative income poverty is defined as “the ratio of the number of people whose income falls below half of the national median household income.”

Renewable energy sources such as wind power can help reduce poverty by decreasing a country’s reliance on fossil fuels. Fossil fuel prices can fluctuate drastically, causing instability in the economy. Wind turbines can replace the use of fossil fuels. The renewable energy sector also creates jobs and allows for energy security. With the power to use clean energy and bring economic prosperity to South Korean citizens, offshore wind farms provide a solution to poverty reduction.

The Future of Wind Farms

Overall, South Korean offshore wind farms could help South Korea bounce back economically after the COVID-19 pandemic. Wind energy is a sustainable resource as it is readily available. In comparison to fossil fuels, wind energy is more consistent and less expensive to harness. The boost in wind power could also place South Korea on the leaderboard for renewable energy.

Future prosperity and poverty reduction in South Korea will come from inclusive economic growth. With the use of renewable energy sources, sustainability and economic success are possible. Increasing accessibility to energy will thus help South Korea win the fight against poverty.

– Courtney Roe
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in South KoreaThe COVID-19 pandemic that began in late 2019 has impacted families, communities and society as a whole. The pandemic precautions have been a worldwide effort to keep everyone safe. In South Korea, there have been a total of 118,243 cases of COVID-19 as of April 2021. Of the 118,243 who tested positive, there have been 1,812 deaths but 107,781 individuals have recovered. The statistics show the persistent effort that is being demonstrated by the South Korean government to keep the country and its citizens safe.

COVID-19 in South Korea

South Korea has made it a priority to establish a system for the country and its citizens in order to keep everyone safe. In the early stages of COVID-19, South Korea made it a priority to mitigate the situation by distributing tests to as many people as possible. The results of the test, positive or negative, would gauge the severity of the outbreak. The goal was to have everyone quarantine so that the transmission of the virus, regardless of the positive or negative test result, would be slowed. The procedure that the South Korean officials followed was: test, trace and isolate. Within weeks of the first COVID-19 case, South Korea was the leading country in distributing tests. In perspective, by the end of April 2020, the United States had more than one million positive cases. South Korea had fewer than 11,000 cases. In the early stages of COVID-19, South Korea had 3,700 cases whereas the United States had 32. Managing the quick outbreak, and dealing with its repercussions was not easy for any country. However, South Korea was able to quickly formulate a system of test, trace and isolate. This helped lessen the number of lost lives.

Vaccine Efforts in South Korea

The creation and distribution of vaccines have been a large factor in the success that South Korea has seen in combatting COVID-19. South Korea has signed a contract with Pfizer to purchase another 40 million doses of its vaccine. Collectively, South Korea has 192 million doses of vaccines from Moderna, AstraZeneca PLC, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax. The goal that South Korea had set was to have 70% of its citizens vaccinated with the first dose by November.

In order to obtain aid and assistance to receive these large quantities of vaccines, South Korea looks to the United States for help. South Korea provided assistance to the United States in the early stages of the pandemic with COVID-19 testing kits and face masks. Therefore, South Koreans hope for help from the United States in return. The U.S. State Department has made a statement regarding this vaccine alliance. The Department sees a possibility to help other countries increase their vaccine supplies but the citizens of the United States will be the priority.

Looking Ahead

South Korea was extremely successful in combating the virus at the beginning of the pandemic by acting quickly in response to testing and isolation. When no one knew how to handle the pandemic, South Korea stood as a strong example of how to minimize the effects of a global pandemic.

– Nicole Sung
Photo: Flickr

Educational Inequality in South Korea
Despite 70 years of impressive economic and educational development in South Korea, low-income households are struggling to close the achievement gap resulting from the income gap. Past educational inequality in South Korea persists today as low-income adults invest disproportionately in hopes their children will achieve academic and economic success.

Education and Poverty

In 2018, the Organization Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a working report on child poverty in South Korea. One positive finding is that only 7% of children live at or below the poverty line in Korea in comparison with the 13% average among OECD countries. A strong labor market and a steady decrease in birth rates both contributed to a drop in child poverty.

This report highlights education’s role in children’s standard of living regarding two key identifiable risk factors:

  • Cost of Education
  • Parental Education and Employment

Other factors such as rising rent prices also burden families. However, parental education has had a noticeable impact on a household’s income potential and how burdensome a household might find all expenditures, including the significant cost of children’s education.

The Cost of Cramming Schools

South Korean households pay about 42% of the costs of primary and secondary school education for their children compared with the 22% average among other OECD countries. These expenses include traditional fees and costs for supplies and afterschool activities.

Nearly 68% of students attend hagwons, otherwise known as cramming schools, which are private schools that children attend outside of their usual classes for an average of 4.6 hours per week. Cramming schools provide additional instruction on top of regular school hours in order to prepare students for competitive entrance exams. The more hours a child spends in those schools, the more money their families have to spend. An estimated 16.5% of poor households overspend on hagwons, investing around 30% of their income as opposed to the 5% average among higher-income households. These cramming schools demonstrate how parental employment impacts educational inequality in South Korea.

The Value of Parents’ Education

While South Korean employment rates line up with other OECD countries, the nature of employment is important. Having a parent in non-regular employment is a risk factor for child poverty and, indirectly, educational inequality in South Korea. Non-regular workers are subject to inconsistent or short-term employment with poorer conditions and pay. These workers make up one-third of the South Korean workforce and many possess a secondary education level or lower.

It is also notable that a growing number of highly educated people hold non-regular employment in South Korea. While non-regular workers make up a third of the labor force in South Korea, a third of those workers have completed tertiary education. However, this is due to competition for well-paid, regular work, and households with a highly educated head still tend to be better off than less educated households. Thus, attaining a higher education level remains desirable.

Dr. Soo-Yong Byun and Dr. Kyung-Keun Kim provide a greater context in their 2010 study, “Educational inequality in South Korea: The widening socioeconomic gap in student achievement.” Byun and Kim examined how a household’s socioeconomic status affected eighth-grade academic achievement. They determined that, regarding secondary education, parents’ socioeconomic status indirectly impacted their children’s achievement through how much money they could spend on hagwons.

Lower-income students unable to extensively attend hagwons, among other opportunities, might then experience a disadvantage in competitive exams determining which schools they might attend. Various cities and regions have implemented policies to equalize primary and secondary education, more evenly distributing lower-income students throughout higher quality public and private schools. However, this policy does not apply to all of South Korea or account for university entrance exams. This means children’s future socioeconomic achievement may be at risk due to their parents’ education and employment statuses.

Cutting Families a Break

The South Korean government recognizes the educational inequality that low-income families face and employs additional programs to address the issue. The National Center on Education and the Economy outlines some programs assisting low-income households regarding educational inequality in South Korea. Such programs comprise:

  • Free childcare for all children aged 3 to 5 years old
  • Vouchers for after-school activity fees for primary and secondary-aged students
  • Child Development Accounts in which the government will match the family’s contributions and alleviate future university or vocational school expenses
  • Incentives for teachers to work in schools with higher proportions of low-income students

Looking Ahead

South Korea continues to expand and experiment with its education and social policies in hopes of mitigating burdens on low-income households. Education already helped lift generations of South Koreans out of poverty. The government and families are investing in education and its equalization in hopes of lifting up thousands more.

– Mckenzie Howell
Photo: Flickr

Technology in South Korean SchoolsMany know South Korea for having high-quality education, resulting in influential economic and technological impacts. After World War II, South Korea reformed its educational system to emphasize the importance of national identity and benefiting all of society. One way the country began to alter education was through implementing technology in South Korean schools.

Education in Korea

A student who received an education in South Korea told The Borgen Project in an interview, Korean students must attend school for at least 220 days each year. Elementary school lasts from age 6 to age 14. Middle school lasts for three years, and high school lasts for another three years. In elementary school, each period lasts 40 minutes. For middle and high school, periods last 45 minutes. Students get between four and seven hours of instruction each day. Since 2007, Korean schools have been transitioning to five-day school weeks instead of six.  High schools have different categories; the main two are academic and vocational.

SMART Education in South Korean Schools

The “S” in SMART Education stands for “self-directed.” This means that students will initiate the learning. When the students have the willingness to gain knowledge, they are more likely to succeed in their education.

“M” stands for “motivated.” In the classroom, teachers include this concept by ensuring that the learning and teaching methods are engaging. This will help the students to be excited about their learning and more likely to work hard on given tasks.

“A” stands for “adaptation.” This allows education to be effective for different individuals. Each student learns differently, so teachers must adapt to the individual’s needs and circumstances.

“R” stands for “resources.” In order for the curriculum to be effective, South Korea aims to have the highest knowledge scores. In order to have all of the information required to teach effectively, teachers need enough resources.

“T” stands for “technology.” This shows the use of ICT—Information and Communications Technology—in South Korean schools’ curricula. Implementing technology and technology education into the education system digitalized South Korea’s curriculum to reflect the modern age.

Technology Education in South Korean Schools

Approximately 98% of Korean households use the Internet each day. Two-thirds of these households use smartphones. In addition, 5% of South Koreans say that they use their smartphones for at least eight hours each day. This is especially prominent among young Koreans between the ages of 5 and 19.

South Korea has been thoroughly implementing technology curricula into the country’s secondary level education. This decision originally occurred in 1969 due to the quick economic growth and technological advances in the country. Through focusing on middle and high school students, technology can have an impact on societal progress.

South Korea has the fastest internet speed and the widest access to the internet across the globe. This has contributed to the country’s successes related to technological advancement. Through incorporating technology into their education system, the country has continued to flourish and progress.

ICT Education

People across South Korea started utilizing Information and Communications Technology, or ICT, in 2005. The aims of the use of ICT are to strengthen the educational system, to further science and technology and to adapt to the rapid changes in the economy, society and science. In working toward reaching this goal, South Korea is constantly learning about advances in technology and having researchers and scientists developing new technology, as the interviewee told The Borgen Project.

In the classroom, one can see this in how students do not learn through the traditional methods of blackboards and textbooks. Schools have included ICT at all levels of the education system to develop a new generation of learners.

Professor Jeong Rang Kim of the Department of Computer Education at Gwangju National University described how, in order to strengthen students’ learning capacity, schools focus on the four C’s: critical thinking and problem-solving, collaboration, character and communication.

These skills are to help students adapt quickly and be ambitious. Not only did society quickly adopt ICT, but it is also part of many Koreans’ individual lives. A common Korean phrase is “pali-pali,” which means “quick and quicker.”

Impact on Poverty

Before the establishment of the government of the Republic of Korea, Korea struggled with poverty. Now, it has become the world’s top 15th economic stronghold. Part of this is due to the promise of free, high-quality education for everybody, regardless of socioeconomic status; South Korea is aware of the importance of UNESCO’s “Education for All” initiative.

In addition to this, no matter how much money a student’s family has, each person has the entitlement to have skilled teachers. Becoming a teacher in South Korea is a career with high esteem, as the interviewee described.

High academic achievement sets up students for future career success. This, in turn, helps students break the cycle of poverty and build a financially secure life for themselves. By giving equal access to education, students will be more likely to get into universities and get a college degree. Furthermore, excellent education results in employees with special skills and a highly educated populace.

Going forward, individuals will continue to place a greater value on education that includes technology in South Korean schools. This results in future generations becoming more and more invested in their education, further establishing their financial security and stability.

– Miranda Kargol
Photo: Flickr

UnivocaNorth Korean defectors are Koreans who have fled North Korea seeking asylum in South Korea or other nations, mainly due to “political, ideological and economic reasons.” When North Korean defectors flee to South Korea, one particular challenge they endure is the language barrier. The two Koreas once shared a common language, but after years of conflict, the languages today are much different. The Univoca app, designed in South Korea’s capital city of Seoul, is a South Korean-North Korean translator app that has proven useful for learning new vocabulary to helps bridge the linguistic divide. Bridging the linguistic divide helps North Korean defectors better transition to living in South Korea.

Korean Dialects

The North Korean language has always remained the same. It is known as Chosŏnŏ, whereas Hangugeo is the language of South Korea. The alphabet is the same but there are visual variations in terms of spacing, connection and appearance. Some words look completely different but most of the difference is in the dialect and pronunciation.

The developing democratic nation of South Korea frequently pokes fun at the northern dialect in comedy acts for seeming “quaint or old-fashioned. The government of the north, is of a hereditary nature as it is a family dictatorship that some often call a “hereditary dictatorship.” North Korea does not allow anything to stray from its traditional and conservative history. Defectors that have fled to South Korea often flee in a desperate attempt to leave their pasts behind them and begin a new life that does not involve dictatorship. Univoca, short for unification vocabulary, helps bridge linguistic barriers.

After the arduous journey to South Korea, many defectors describe the struggle with the language to be one of the biggest hardships. North Koreans can only understand about half of the language in South Korea. Defectors compare the transition to learning an entirely new language. Although they are eager to start a new life, the language barrier makes transitioning difficult.

The Univoca Translation App

South Korean teachers are hopeful that the Univoca app will help new defector students better understand their learning material. This, in turn, should help them progress in their educational endeavors. Univoca offers some independence from constantly relying on others to teach and translate the language.

The developers of Univoca’s dictionary deliberately and considerably chose the first 3,600 words of Univoca’s dictionary. Co-developer, Jang Jong-chul said, “We first showed this typical South Korean grammar textbook to a class of teenage defectors who picked out the unfamiliar words.” The creators also consulted older North Korean people to help with producing accurate translations.

Univoca users are able to type in the unknown word or scan a photo of it with a cellphone camera. The app then produces the appropriate translation. Univoca also offers commonly used phrases to guide users through basic activities such as ordering food off of a menu or asking for directions. Subscribers are able to add suggestions of words that they would like Univoca to add to the dictionary. This leaves room for a continually growing translation app.

The Univoca translation app is a simple solution with a tremendous impact. Univoca helps North Koreans transition to life in South Korea by offering assistance with the linguistic barriers that present themselves.

Sarah Ottosen
Photo: Flickr

Books About Poverty in North KoreaThere are countless statistics and facts about global poverty on the internet. While this is very helpful in providing readers with a sense of what is happening around the world, it can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, statistics and facts do not adequately reflect the reality of impoverished nations.  Thus, many people rely on novels to understand the human experiences within impoverished nations. Poverty in North Korea is unknown to most people, and books are a good way to educate readers.

Storytelling relays information and allows people to collect official data. It allows readers to grasp the reality and emotions of others. According to the BBC, personal experiences are paramount in effectively bringing attention to the significant problems around them. The emotional response readers have serves as a catalyst for aid.

North Korea and Poverty

North Korea is a mysterious and unknown country to many people. Since 1948, its population has reached 25 million. As a result of its economic structure and lack of participation within the world economy, poverty in North Korea is prevalent. Approximately 60% of North Korea’s population lives in poverty.

North Korea has a command economy, which is commonplace among communist countries. The government has control over all monetary exchanges, causing the economy to remain relatively stagnant due to a lack of competition between businesses. Additionally, North Korea’s trade restrictions and sanctions have deeply hurt the country’s economy. As a result, the lack of participation has effectively barred the country from growing within the international market. Its economy is vulnerable to collapse and rates of poverty in North Korea continue to soar. Fortunately, these books below strengthen the fight against global poverty by illustrating the suffering that occurs there and showing why action is needed.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee

This novel was published in 2015 and has been universally praised for its ability to convey such deep human emotion in harrowing situations. The Girl With the Seven Names is a biography of the author’s experiences in North Korea. It reflects Lee’s struggle to escape poverty with her family. In this book, Lee describes the horrid treatments and deplorable conditions that she faced living under the current North Korean regime.

Furthermore, she explains how such experiences have emotionally affected her and those around her. This work provides an inside look into the realities of poverty in North Korea. Additionally, readers are able to better understand the living conditions faced by this country’s populace.

The Accusation by Bandi

The Accusation is a series of short stories published between 1989 and 1995. This work is unique being it is not a traditional memoir, rather, it contains small chapters reflecting the everyday lives of those living in poverty in North Korea. The country’s secretive nature has made it difficult to acquire information. As such, Bandi’s work has become one of the very few sources within the country. Bandi has chosen to live within North Korea in order to continue reporting. The Accusation has been given tremendous praise for its honest writing and its importance as a primary source.

Dear Leader: My Escape from North Korea by Jang Jin-Sung

Dear Leader: My Escape from North Korea is critically acclaimed as an exposé on the way high-ranking officers of North Korea live. Author Jang Jin-Sung was previously the poet laureate to Kim Jong-il. Thus, he obtained access to extremely censored information. In this work, the author and protagonist lend a forbidden magazine to a friend and are forced to flee the country as fugitives. His writing gives an insightful account of how the upper-class lives and how the hierarchical power structure operates.

Additionally, Jin-Sung’s novel discloses the political pressure of working close with Kim Jong-il and the harsh consequences of spreading information. Jin-Sung is able to provide an astonishing amount of valuable information for readers to understand the social injustice in North Korea.

How These Books Help

These are only several books that shed light on people’s experiences and poverty in North Korea. Fortunately, many NGOs and countries continue to sent food and monetary aid to help those living in poverty. The most prevalent of North Korea’s donors are China and South Korea, with China having specifically sent an astonishing 240,074 tons of food to North Korea in 2012. Additionally, the United Nations has received pledges from Switzerland, Sweden, Canada, Norway, France, Germany, Denmark, Finland and Ireland to aid in alleviating poverty in North Korea.

Although North Korea appears to be mysterious and secretive, researching the living conditions within this nation is not impossible. Through the primary sources and biographies reflecting life in North Korea, readers are able to understand human struggles which have occurred in this area for over half a century. Acknowledging poverty and understanding the means to provide aid has motivated many to take action today.

-Stella Vallon
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in South Korea
Many have avoided the subject of menstruation in the public spaces of South Korea, as it often receives the label of being a private experience for women. The expectation of South Korean women is that they separate their private life from their public image. As such, the government has immensely ignored period poverty in South Korea.

Brief History

The lack of discussion surrounding menstruation has been consistent since the 1980s. Alongside this issue, patriarchal dominance and gender inequality are similarly longstanding. The harsh stigmas that others have placed upon menstruation accompany inequalities concerning wages, proper mannerisms, pregnancy and family roles.

Many women’s unions pushed for menstrual leave at work as a necessity directly correlated to their health and reproductive care. In 2001, South Korea authorized unpaid menstrual leave; however, women did not exercise the policy. Meanwhile, the refrain from utilizing the law strengthened due to the 2003 law alteration. Women could only receive menstrual leave upon employee’s request, which contributed to workplace discrimination and organizational discouragement.

Others Impacted

In addition to these conditions in organizational settings, period poverty in South Korea was prevalent among lower-class families. In 2016, “insole girls” began to circulate in the media. It referred to girls who could not afford period products using insoles of sneakers instead of pads. This was a direct result of Yuhan-Kimberly, the leading brand of period products. The company raised the prices of its pads by 20%, despite period products being at their highest point in the region.

The exposure of “insole girls” began to stimulate discussion of period poverty in South Korea. The overwhelming response was anger. Period products costed half a living wage at the time, and many representatives began to advocate for period products to receive treatment as a public good. Charities and nonprofit organizations began to plan the distribution of free period products, such as pads, underwear and cosmetics for girls.

Yuhan-Kimberly released a public statement explaining its pledge to donate 1.5 million pads and develop cheaper options for several demographics. With new talk of affordable period products, the conversation began to shift toward menstrual cups and reusable pads, which the South Korean government combatted.

The Current Fight

Despite the tensions of gender disparities and menstruation, the South Korean government began to relax restrictions and pass new policies regarding menstruation. In 2017, the government began to allow the sale of menstrual cups, despite its previous prohibition. In 2018, the South Korean metropolitan government announced the provision of free menstrual products in 10 public venues, such as the Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul History Museum and Seoul Metropolitan Library. The public has also stood up to fight period poverty.

Nonprofit organizations, such as the Korean Women’s Environmental Network (KWEN), fight for menstrual safety and period poverty. As an eco-friendly feminist advocacy group, KWEN has protested against unsafe sanitary pads and toxin-filled menstrual products. KWEN continues to encourage taboo discussions of women’s bodies, educating its audience on topics ranging from women’s hygiene to products that are safe and environmentally friendly.

As part of the ongoing discussion on period poverty in South Korea, many women spoke out on how people should consider period products a public necessity. They fought against the censorship of “saengri,” a common informal term for a period. They also began discussions of gender disparities in the workplace, family life and society.

Cho Nam Joo’s book “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 A Novel” sheds light on the different obstacles and pressures of being a woman in Korea. Considering its debut in 2016 — the crux of censored women experiences, Cho was challenging the stigmas to menstruation and the female experience. Cho is part of the feminist movement that stirs in the South Korean community.

A New Direction

Public discussion, nonprofits and the government have ushered in promising change regarding period poverty in South Korea. With continued support, women can challenge the stigmas regarding menstruation and dwindle the numbers of impoverished communities that period poverty in South Korea affects. The idea of a foreseeable end to gender discrimination and menstrual taboo has surfaced and resounds strongly throughout the country.

Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

Social and Economic Mobility
Social and economic mobility in a developing country becomes possible by examining the socio-economic inequalities that exist within a country due to the improved mobility of other social classes. This is a noticeable issue in South Korea amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The loss of revenue due to forced closures out of precaution and safety has impacted South Korea’s entrepreneurial workforce. Business owners who share the same sentiment have expressed that their government has been short on loans to cover business expenses. They also mentioned their preference toward establishing a tax cut. Additionally, the resulting dependence on technology for social-distancing purposes has further divided social classes and vulnerable groups like the elderly in South Korea. Fortunately, increased investment and trade have strengthened South Korea’s social and economic mobility amid COVID-19.

Elderly and Technological Advancements

One of the main issues in socio-economic inequalities is the wealth gap, which the pandemic has exacerbated. There are individuals who have been able to maintain a steady income while working from home. However, others have had to sell their assets to repay loans in order to keep their businesses thriving. The prospect of job security is low since workplaces have frequently turned workers away from their work, causing a hindrance in receiving income.

The pandemic has particularly impacted the elderly due to the shift in technology to follow the no-contact rule of the social guidelines. A 61-year-old experienced a QR code for the first time at a bakery, not knowing what it represented or how it became the new “normal” in facilitating a transaction in a business.

Future Economical Advancements

The new issues that have surfaced because of the pandemic have opened a potential source of income. This source boosted the South Korean economy in regard to social and economic mobility. The job market in South Korea is focusing on advanced technological fields, specifically working on the future of the car industry, as well as the low-carbon emission industry.

According to the 2020 GDP forecast, South Korea is less likely to take an economic hit compared to other countries. This is great news, specifically for the industries focused on bringing in revenue for the country.

North and South Korea Inter-Economy

Social and economic mobility is prevalent with the help of companies such as KPMG International. Recently, an investment guide has emerged to help with the economic cooperation of both North and South Korea. It aims to bring in more job opportunities to both countries and provide South Korea with information on the investment environment in North Korea. The president of South Korea mentioned that revenue would expand by combining both North and South Korea through “trade and infrastructure links.”

South Korea’s Trade Business

South Korea’s revenue will increase due to the new trading shift. The country also experienced an economic boom with the help of its exports and manufacturing activities. South Korea’s exports have grown by 4% in 2020 because of the high demand for technology. Exports are significant to South Korea’s economy, especially with strict lockdowns during the pandemic to help control the virus. With the increased investment plans and trade, hope exists that South Korea can continue to diminish socio-economic inequalities amid COVID-19, helping to advance its social and economic mobility efforts.

Amanda Ortiz
Photo: Flickr