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Debate grows in South Korea over women and the military

South Korea’s military service law requires men but not women to serve for about 20 months. Seoul’s defense ministry said “social consensus” is needed before changes are made, according to a local press report on Tuesday. File Photo by Yonhap/UPI
South Korea’s military service law requires men but not women to serve for about 20 months. Seoul’s defense ministry said “social consensus” is needed before changes are made, according to a local press report on Tuesday. File Photo by Yonhap/UPI

April 20 (UPI) -- A South Korean petition that has collected more than 140,000 signatures is demanding women in the country be required to perform compulsory military service as debate intensifies over current policy.

The petition, "Please include women in [military] conscription," was uploaded on Friday, Newsis reported. The government is required to address any petition that gathers more than 200,000 signatures in 30 days.

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South Korean law requires men between ages 18 and 28 to report to the military for about 20 months of service. In 2010, 2011 and 2014, the nation's Constitutional Court upheld a law that requires only men to serve in the military.

Attitudes toward gender and the military are changing in the country, however.

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According to Korea Women's Development Institute, more than half of women, or 53.7%, who responded to a survey in 2019 said they agree women should be required to report to military duties.

Politicians in the country say they are open to new ideas, citing problems with gender discrimination in the country.

Democratic Party lawmaker Kwon In-seok said on a local radio show that the male-centric conscription system is a "major source of gender bias through a woman's working life," referring to instances of discrimination against women in workplaces because of their lack of military experience.

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Women can also find new jobs in the military, Kwon said.

Seoul is approaching the issue cautiously.

Defense ministry spokesman Boo Seung-chan said Tuesday at a regular press briefing that "social consensus" is needed before declaring a need to "reorganize the military service system," News 1 reported.

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"I do not think it is appropriate to give a definite answer," the South Korean spokesman said.

Boo also said he would not comment about a potential "volunteer military system," a topic that has become widely discussed after the publication of a new book.

The book by Democratic Party lawmaker Park Yong-jin, proposes replacing the draft with a voluntary system that require men and women to receive basic training for up to 100 days, according to Yonhap on Tuesday.

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