Women leaders
Women's organizations


From the late 1930s until 1945, the Japanese colonial government pursued a policy of assimilation whose primary goal was to force Koreans to speak Japanese and to consider themselves Japanese subjects. In 1937, the Japanese governor general ordered that all instruction in Korean schools be in Japanese and that students not be allowed to speak Korean either inside or outside of school. Those caught speaking Korea were punished severely. In 1939, another decree forced Koreans to adopt Japanese names. During the war, Korean-language newspapers and magazines were shut down. Belief in the divinity of the Japanese emperor was encouraged, and Shinto shrines were built throughout the country.

Japanese rule was harsh and internal Korean resistance virtually ceased in the 1930s as the police and the military imposed strict surveillance over all people suspected of subversive inclinations and meted out severe punishments against transgressors. Most Koreans opted to pay lip service to the colonial government; others actively collaborated with the Japanese. The treatment of the collaborators became a sensitive and occasionally violent issue during the years following liberation.

As the Second World War was winding down in Asia, the USSR declared war against Japan and quickly moved to gain lands occupied by the Japanese Army. This included Korea. With the Russians quickly occupying lands in the northern half of Korea, the US landed occupation forces in the south. To avoid a major confrontation, the US proposed the 38th parallel as a dividing line between the north and south, a proposal quickly accepted by the Soviet Union.

The US and the United Nations wanted to establish a nationwide vote to democratically elect the leader of the newly liberated country, but the Soviet Union refused to participate, nor would it let UN representatives enter the Russian-occupied north to conduct the election. Therefore, only the southern half of the peninsula voted for a president, with Syngman Rhee becoming the first president of the Republic of Korea (ROK). The north also formed its own government, declaring itself the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea (DPRK), with Kim il-song as its leader.

The Korean War broke out on 25 June 1950 and, technically, still continues today, however, a cease-fire was signed in 1953, which is still in force. This war was very brutal and devastated the country, pitting family members against each other and forcing families apart. Most of these separated family members will never live to meet their loved ones living on the other side of the demilitarized zone (DMZ). However, after the summit meeting between ROK President Kim Tae-chung (Kim Dae Jung) and DPRK Chairman Kim Chong-il (Kim Jong-il), some family members have been reunited, although for only a few days and under very rigid conditions.

Kim Tae-chung (Kim Dae Jung), the long-time opposition leader and pro-democracy leader was narrowly elected president in 1997. Kim Tae-chung's presidency was notable because it was the first time that the opposition party came to power in Korea. Kim led Korea out of the "IMF Era," the period when Korea needed massive financial aid from the International Monetary Fund, through major reforms of the banking and industrial sectors. Kim's presidency is characterized by his "Sunshine Policy," a policy of embracing North Korea.

From June 13th to 15th, 2000, the leaders of the two Koreas held their first summit meeting in Pyongyang. The summit led to a joint statement by the two leaders which supported, in general terms, the goal of eventual reunification of the two Korean states, reunification of families divided since the Korean War, and economic cooperation. A planned follow-up visit to South Korea by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, however, has been repeatedly delayed.

Sources and related links:
Korean history: Japanese occupation
Korean history: post occupation
Korean Government
Virtual libraries on North and South Korea
North Korea: Atlapaedia Online


Women in politics
For the past 20 years, the status of South Korean women in the fields of law and politics has progressed to where the UN considers South Korea a model country in women's development. For instance, the passage of the Protection Law against Domestic Violence and the Law of Prohibition and Relief from Gender Discrimination is expected to further improve women's status and help protect women from discrimination. However, there are still large gaps between these laws and reality; women's participation in Korean politics remains that of an undeveloped country.

At the national level, there are only 16 women sitting in the 273-member National Assembly representing a measly 5.9%. In local councils nationwide, only 56 women were elected out of the 3,490 seats available. There is one woman in the Cabinet, the Minister of Environment.

The low level of women's political participation in Korea is primarily due to the traditional nature of the society, which continues to regard politics as the man's realm. Accordingly, the male-dominated political parties are not supportive of women candidates although parties are making efforts to recruit more women, while the electoral system works against women. Furthermore, legislation to help increase and facilitate women's political participation has been insufficient in addressing women's needs. Finally, according to the Korean Institute of Women in Politics (KIWP), women themselves have been indifferent to politics and naive in their political consciousness.

In North Korea, there is very little or no information available on women's participation in politics.

Read this report to know more about women's situation in Korea.


Important political facts

Government type: authoritarian socialist (North), republic (South)

Head of State:

North Korea. Under the amended constitution, the chairperson (Kim Jong-il) of the National Defense Committee holds the highest position of the state, accorded with the highest administrative authority. At the same time, the chairperson (Kim Yong-nam) of the Standing Committee of the Supreme People's Assembly is given the responsibility of representing the state and receiving diplomatic credentials.

South Korea. President, elected by universal adult suffrage for a single five-year term. The incumbent is Kim Dae Jung who is elected in December 1997 and assumed office in February 1998.


North Korea. Unicameral. It is called the Supreme People's Assembly or Ch'oego Inmin Hoeui. It has 687 seats and the members are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms.

South Korea. Unicameral. The National Assembly or Kukhoe has 273 seats (227 elected by direct, popular vote) and members serve four-year terms.


North Korea. The Assembly on the advice of the President elects the Premier. The Premier is head of government. The Central People's Committee appoints the other members of the Administrative Council.

South Korea. The President appoints the Prime Minister and the other members of the State Council. The Prime Minister is head of government.

Most recent elections

South Korea
Presidential: December 18, 1997
Legislative: April 13, 2000

North Korea Legislative: July 26, 1998

Political parties   

Grand National Party
Number of seats in the National Assembly: 133
Head: Lee Hoi-Chang, President
Address: 17-7 Yoido-dong, youngdeungpo-ku, Seoul, Korea,150-874. Tel (82-2) 3786-3371
Email webmaster@hannara.or.kr

Millennium Democratic Party
Number of seats in the National Assembly: 115
Head: Kim Dae Jung, President
Address: Kisan Building, 15 Yeoeuido-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul 150-010
Tel (82-2) 784-7007
Fax (82-2) 784-8095

United Liberal Democrats
Number of seats in the National Assembly: 17
Head: Kim Jong-pil, President
Address: Insan Bldg., 103-4 Shinsoo-dong, Seoul 121-110, Korea
Tel (82-2) 701-3355
Fax (82-2) 707-1637
Email jamin@jamin.or.kr

Political resources and other links to Korea

Women in politics
Important political facts
Political resources