Early last year, there were discussions over granting extra points in government exams for man who have finished their military service.
Surrounding those discussions, many Korean men expressed their strong feelings that they are at an disadvantage against women. As the discontent over the manadate draft system surfaced, many Internet sites sprung which oppose the drafting system and support for military cutbacks. However, they failed to clearly point out the problems of the system and only caused conflicts between men and women.
Neverthless, as questionable deaths and violence in the military and refusals to serve in the military because of religious reasons have become serious issues, those who are involved in peace movements, women's and civic groups argue that now is the time to deal with the root cause of those problems.
On Mar. 20, the Cyber Crime Department of the Seoul Police Office launched an investigation on three Internet sites on the charge of encouraging people to avoid military service. The police regard them as anti-social sites and intend to report these sites to the Information and Telecommunication committee to have these sites closed down. In addition, concerning an Internet site called Non-serviam whose members are known to have met twice, the police is considering applying the criminal law on association with anti-drafting groups.
Several anti-military movement groups emerged since the controversial debate over giving preferential treatment to veterans. The groups assert that the mandatory military service is a flagrant violation of the basic rights stipulated in the constitution. They claim that it is imperative to seek an alternative system to undo the damages and ultimately adopt the recruitment based service system.
Recent reports of human rights violations in the army including unidentified deaths and excessive violence and cases of draftees choosing to go behind bars rather than serving in the army due to religious beliefs raised issues to rethink the military drafting system in Korea. Against this backdrop, on March 17th, various women's and civic groups held a non- formal meeting to discuss the current compulsory army service system in Korea.
Feminists argue that militarism rests on power- oriented social structure and is manifested through war and the army. This translates into discrimination against relatively less- powered women and the disabled. Militarism encourages people to resort to violence when solving problems. Furthermore, it reduces women to become victims of domestic violence. Compulsory service system, service in the army and militarism are all deeply rooted in our daily lives in the form of patriarchy. In this light, these issues must be addressed by women's groups.
HyunSook Kim-Lee, representative of the Women's Association for Building Peace, said that in Korea every issue related to mandatory military service has been in the dark, kneeling down before anti- communism. She emphasized that we need to break away from the long held hypothesis of "all is safe as long as we have a strong army". However, a strong army did not secure us from the financial crisis of late 1997 or the ecological catastrophe we are facing. These issues certainly do de-stabilize our national security. We should remember that too much emphasis on the military rather brings about adverse effect of fostering prostitution, rape, and other sexual threats against women. It is about time we reestablish the very notion of security and defence with a new perspective. Military issues in Korea should now be dealt with a more life- oriented and feminine- based approach.