Women in the Military: a Bastion of Equal Opportunities

      October 01, 2008 10:43

      There are around 4,900 female soldiers in the Korean military, accounting for approximately 2.7 percent of the total armed forces personnel. From the Army to the Marines, women handle the same duties as their male counterparts in all branches of the armed forces.

      The Women's Army Corps was created around the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. The first female soldier was Lee Jung-hee, who was also only the third Korean to hold a pilot's license. She was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the Army in January 1949. In February the same year, she was promoted to captain and appointed as head of the women's aviation academy. Capt. Lee said it is necessary to prove through action that women are equal to men, rather than simply advocating such beliefs through words.

      A female soldier cools a male comrade with water after atomic, biological and chemical weapons training at the Non-Commissioned Officer Academy in Iksan, North Jeolla Province on Sept. 19.

      The Women's Army Corps was created during the Korean War in October 1950 in the southern port city of Busan, when 491 female soldiers completed volunteer army training. During the war, female soldiers were engaged in intelligence gathering, psychological warfare, and interpretation among other duties, but after the war most of them were relegated to administrative posts because the Defense Ministry set up a "women's branch" and managed female soldiers separately. The scrapping of the women's branch in 1990 marked the resumption of a wider range of duties for female soldiers. Starting from the 38th graduating class of female officers in 1993, women began taking on the roles of platoon commanders at recruit training centers for frontline troops. In 1995, Korea saw the appointment of its first female company commander of infantry troops.

      The posting of the first batch of female officers from the Korea Military Academy in 2002 as platoon commanders at frontline rifle corps marked the first assignment of women to combat units. In March 2003, three female fighter pilots were assigned to Air Force squadrons, while in May the same year, women were posted to naval battleships.

      Female soldiers of the Special Warfare Command take part in a parachute landing fall training in Misari, Gyeonggi Province in September. /Photo by Serg. Huh Yoon-tae of Special Warfare Command

      On a global scale, women command high positions in the Korean military. Only the United States assigned a woman to head a battleship, while Norway assigned a woman to lead a submarine. Most other European countries do not allow women to join combat troops. It was only in 2000 that Germany broke down the barriers for women that had allowed them only to take part in medical services and military bands. The U.K. still prohibits women from joining combat units. Italy formed a women's corps in 2001.

      Capt. Park Jin-ah, a company commander with the Marine Corps' Blue Dragon unit, said she believes there is no place in Korea other than the military that treats women as fairly. "It's all about a person's ability, and if a woman has talents, she can work and get compensated according to her full potential," she said.

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