Women’s Health and Safety in Korea

Category : Health/Fitness / Surviving in Korea
Nov 28, 2014

In general, Korea is a very safe country for woman. Its nationally-funded medical system makes obtaining birth control easy and affordable, so you won’t have to sacrifice your reproductive health while in Korea. However, it is still a different country with its own set of values, social norms, and customs, so you may notice some small differences as a woman. No country is 100% crime free, and while generally being a very safe place, Korea is no exception. If you find yourself in the situation of being harmed physically or sexually, there are a number of resources you can access. They have been listed at the bottom of the article.

 

Reproductive Health

While only 1-2.5% of Korean women use the pill (according to the Korean Association of Obstetricians & Gynecologists), that doesn’t mean you will have a problem finding it, or things like condoms, the morning after pill, or pregnancy tests. All of the above (except for the morning after pill) are kept behind-the-counter, and are very affordable. While some foreign women have reported getting odd stares or hearing condescending remarks upon purchasing birth control, it’s something that will ultimately vary from pharmacist-to-pharmacist. Just like you would experience in your home country, some pharmacists may have personal convictions that make them uncomfortable and a bit judgmental about prescribing the pill, especially to young women.

 

Ultimately, you will not be denied birth control or a pregnancy test. If this does occur, go to another pharmacy. Luckily, they are easy to find in most urban areas – just look for the signs that say (yak) or 약국 (yak guk).

 

  • Read this article for information on Pharmacies and Medication in Korea.

 

The Pill

Oral contraceptives are over-the-counter and easy to find in Korea, although rumors suggest that they may soon become prescription-only. They are affordable, costing between 5,000KRW to 10,000KRW for a three-week supply. Social attitudes towards the pill vary, but it is generally becoming more widely used.

 

While some expats may want to stock up on their favorite products before coming to Korea, birth control shouldn’t be one of them (unless you like paying triple the price for an identical product). Yes, birth control is so cheap and available in Korea that many foreign women actually choose to bring extra back home.

 

  1. How to ask for the pill: “Pi-im-yak juseyo” (피임약 주세요).

 

The following brands of birth control are available in Korea:

 

Type

Brand

Producer

Ethinyl Estradiol Level

Progesterone Type & Level

Monophasic

Myvolar

Shering

0.03mg

Gestodene (0.75mg)

Minivore

Shering

0.03mg

Leveonorgestrel (0.15mg)

Mercilon

Organon

0.02mg

Desogestrel (0.15mg)

Sescon

Crown

0.03mg

Leveonorgestrel (0.15mg)

Diane 35/Clairette

Stagen UK

0.035mg

Cyproterone acetate (2mg)

Yasmin

Shering

0.03mg

Drospirenone (3mg)

Yaz

Shering

0.02mg

Drospirenone (3mg) no break

Triphasic

Triquilar

Shering

0.03mg

Levonorgestrel (0.05mg)

 

  1. Note: Monophasic birth control pills have the same amount of hormones in each pill. Triphasic pills have three different doses of hormones, which change roughly every seven days. They are marked accordingly in the pack.

 

Emergency Contraception (Morning After Pill)

The morning after pill is available with a prescription in Korea. A visit to the clinic will cost you around 10,000KRW. If you wish to visit the International Clinic in Itaewon, a visit will cost 15,000KRW with Korean National Health Insurance or 50,000KRW without. However, you can get a discount off of the 50,000KRW rate if you teach English.

 

Afterwards, the morning after pill itself will cost up to 15,000KRW.

 

à Note: If you think that it could be problematic for your employer to discover that you used emergency contraception, then consider bringing some from home. Unlike many other countries where your medical history is kept private, employers in Korea are allowed to view everything – that includes prescriptions and the purpose of clinic visits. The next time you bring in a doctor’s note for a sick day, your boss can easily inquire about your medical history simply by calling your doctor. 

 

  1. How to ask for the morning after pill: “Sahu pi-imnyagi pi-ryo haeyo” (사후피임약이 필요해요).

 

 

Condoms

It’s difficult to find foreign-made condoms in Korea, with the exception of several Japanese brands. If you have a preferred brand from home, be sure to bring a few boxes with you. If you need to purchase some while you’re here, several websites will deliver foreign brands (usually Trojan or Durex) if you order online. Otherwise, Korean and Japanese brands are all widely available at most drugstores (Olive & Young, Watson’s), and corner stores.

 

  1. How to ask for condoms: “Condom juseyo” (콘돔 주세요).

 

Pregnancy Tests

Pregnancy tests, like the pill, are also cheap and widely available in Korea. If possible, ask the doctor how you can read your pregnancy test (in other words, whether two lines or one line means positive). The instructions that come with the test will likely be in Korean only.

 

  1. How to ask for a pregnancy test: “imsin gumsa hago shipoyo” (임신 검사하고 싶어요).

 

Abortions

Abortions in Korea are illegal, outside of the cases of rape, incest, or severe genetic disorders. However, most doctors will perform the procedure if you pay for it. Abortions are still widely practiced in Korea, to the tune of around 1.5 million a year. In fact, Korea has the second-highest abortion rate in the world (according to a study done by academic Hyung Ki Choi and colleagues).

 

An abortion will cost you around 500,000KRW. Since medical tourism is so big in Korea, the standard of treatment you will receive will likely be very high. If you want to have an abortion, your best option is to call a clinic in the Gangnam area. Many are used to treating foreigners, and will even have English-speaking doctors. The facilities are very clean and well-maintained.

 

Women’s Safety

 

Korea is generally a very safe country for women. You should have no worries about walking home from the bus or subway late at night, even in dimly-lit areas. You may get cat-called during the nightlife hours in foreigner districts.

 

Here are some phrases to use in emergency situations:

 

English

Pronunciation Guide

Korean

Help!

Dowa juseyo!

도와주세요!

Stop!

Geuman haseyo!

그만 하세요!

Go Away!

Jeo-ri ga!

저리 가!

Call an ambulance!

Gu-geup-cha-reul bulleo juseyo!

구급차를 불러 주세요!

Call the police!

Gyeong-chal-eul bulleo juseyo!

경찰을 불러 주세요!

It’s an emergency!

Gupan irieyo

급한 일이에요!

Could you help me, please?

Jom dowa jusi-gessoyo?

좀 도와 주시겠어요?

I’m lost.

Ki-reul irossoyo.

길을 잃었어요.

Is it safe for women?

Yeoja-ege anjeon hangayo?

여자에게 안전한가요?

Where’s the police station?

Gyeong chalso-ga eodiyeyo?

경찰서가 어디에요?

I’ve been…

Jeo-neun…

저는…

Assaulted

Pok-haeng dang haessoyo

폭행 당했어요

Robbed

Do-duk majassoyo

도둑 맞았어요

Raped

Kang-gan dang-haessoyo

강간 당했어요

Could I have an English-speaking lawyer?

Young-eo haneun byonhosa ssulsu issoyo?

영어 하는 변호사 쓸 수 있어요?

I need an English interpreter.

Young-eo tong-yeoksa-ga piryo haeyo.

영어 통역사가 필요해요

Could I see a female doctor?

Yeoja uisa issoyo?

여자 의사 있어요?

 

 

Sexual Assault and Harassment

Like many countries around the world, uninvited sexual advances can happen in nightclubs in Korea. But for the most part, men tend to be very reserved. They may say ‘hello’ or try to have a conversation. In many case, men (and women) are simply interested in foreigners, and may just want to practice English.

 

If a man does become aggressive, be direct – tell him to stop. Just pulling away and distancing yourself is not necessarily enough. In Korea, many men falsely interpret this as “playing hard-to-get”. While this is no excuse for their actions, it’s good just be aware of it. If need be, a good slap on the arm with a firm “NO”, using eye contact, is effective.

 

Harassment in the Workplace

If your incident took place at work, then you can consider taking legal action. For more information on this subject, visit WorknPlay’s article on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace.

 

“Are you Russian?”

Are you surprised at how many times that you’ve been mistaken for a Russian since arriving in Korea? Perhaps it’s because you genuinely look like you’re from Russia. Koreans may be trying to compliment you, as they perceive Russians as being very beautiful (think: blonde hair, blue eyes, tall and slim).

 

However, depending on who said it, it could have an entirely different meaning. To put it bluntly, it’s code for asking “are you a prostitute?”. This comes from a commonly-held stereotype that most Russian women in Korea are sex workers. A tell-tale sign that this simple inquiry about your nationality is actually meant as a “proposition”, is if the man who approached you keeps on pressing the question even after you’ve said “No, I’m not Russian”. It often has nothing to do with how you’re dressed; rather, it’s more about having a specific appearance. Tall, blonde women with blue eyes should be prepared for this kind of remark.

 

  1. What can you do? The best way to respond in this situation is to simply state your nationality and occupation, so no confusion can arise. 

 

Dress

Refer to this table for some quick tips about how Korean women usually dress. Some guidelines are more stringent. Koreans almost never show cleavage or expose their shoulders, but they do show off their legs and wear high heels. Some of the guidelines are meant more for professional settings, such as no flip flops.

 

Ultimately, dressing in a revealing manner will not get you into any legal trouble, like it might in some other countries around the world. As well, Korean men generally do not “cat call”, as many men do in other cultures. The most noticeable reaction you’ll likely face from exposed skin is from older women, who may stare you down, point, or blatantly critique your attire with their friends.

Yes: (✓)

No: (X)

  • Short skirts or shorts
  • Exposed shoulders
  • High heels (plain, strappy, embellished)
  • Flip flops
  • Layered, flowy tops
  • Skin-tight, form-fitting tops
  • Subtle, pastel colors
  • Bright, neon colors; shiny fabrics
  • Button-up shirts or turtlenecks
  • Cleavage-baring tops

 

 

Taking Legal Action

If you find yourself in a situation where you’ve been assaulted or harassed, there is very little (if anything) that your embassy can do for you legally, aside from providing you with some resources or advice on what action to take.

 

Instead, if you wish to take legal action, you will need to contact your local police directly. (See WorknPlay’s articles on Contacting the Police and Korean Helplines). The language barrier could pose some problems, although the police force does have some English speakers. It might be more appropriate to seek the help of an English-speaking lawyer, or a Korean friend or co-worker. (See WorknPlay’s Directory for English Lawyers). Since Korea’s culture has deep roots in Confucianism, (which stresses the superiority of the elder over the youth, and the man over the woman), you will probably have more success if you can get a middle-aged (or older) Korean man to vouch for your case. He could be a lawyer, employer, professor, or principal from your school. While it may not seem fair, the reality is that his word as an older Korean national will have a bigger impact than yours, as a young foreign woman.

 

Seeking Help

 

Korea Women’s Hotline

The Korea Women’s Hotline (KWH) operates 25 branches throughout Korea. Their mission is to raise awareness and encourage activism about women’s rights in Korea. They also aim to reduce domestic violence and sexual discrimination in Korea while promoting gender equality.

 

Some of the services the KWH provides include:

  1. Offering free legal counseling and advice for survivors of domestic and sexual violence (via phone, email, or in-person meetings);
  2. Providing certain medical services for the survivors of sexual violence;
  3. Operating a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

 

If women’s rights is a cause that you are passionate about, you can also volunteer and receive activist training at KWH.

 

KWH Headquarters

  1. Address: 1F 1-15 Nokbeon-dong, Eunpyeong-gu Seoul, Korea.
  1. Telephone: 02-3156-5400
  2. Website
  3. Email: Hotline@hotline.or.kr
  4. Directions: Subway: Exit No.2 of Bulgwang Station on Line 6 or 3. Bus: Dokbakgol Station(#7022, #7211, #7212)
  5. Google Maps link

 

Urgent Assistance Provided by KWH

  1. Telephone Counseling
  • Hours: Monday to Friday, 10:00 to 13:00 and 14:00 to 17:00
  • Physical violence: 02-2263-6464
  • Sexual violence: 02-2263-6465

 

  1. In-Person Counseling:

Appointments can be made via telephone or email.

  1. Email Counseling:

Counsel@hotline.or.kr

 

  1. Free Legal Counseling:

Every Monday (Reservations are necessary. Call or email for an appointment)

 

  1. Shelter Access

Telephone: 02-2263-6465, 02-2263-6465, or 1577-1366

 

  1. Location Assistance

You can also receive these services at any of the 25 national branches around Korea (listed on the KWH website).

Gabrielle interned as a Content Creator for Work'n'Play during her exchange trip to Chung-Ang University in 2012-2013. She graduated from Vancouver Island University in May 2014 with her BA in Global Studies. She is now a Master's student at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa, Canada. The things she misses most about her year in Korea are: going for makgeolli + jeon with friends, exploring Seoul's new and old hidden treasures and getting to practice Korean every day. You can connect with her on Twitter at @MsGabrielle or email her at gabrielle.bishop@hotmail.com.

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