On April 17, 410 students and ten presidents of universities such as Seoul National, Yonsei, Korea and Ehwa Women’s universities submitted a petition to the National Assembly, calling for “gender equality in admitting officers to the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).” The petitioners pointed out, “Currently, the ROTC accepts applications from only male students, and does not even grant female students the right to apply for admission. This is in violation of the Constitution that acknowledges gender equality and the right to choose one’s employment.”
In response to this petition, National Defense Minister Kim Dong Shin says, “We are hard put to accept this proposition due to human resources and budgetary constraints.” Kim went on to explain that for the admittance of women into the ROTC, “we need to review the entire system for nurturing commissioned officers.” Kim said that the Ministry would look into the matter from a mid- to long-term perspective, implying that the called-for improvements will take a long time in coming.
There are no laws at the moment preventing women from applying for admission to the ROTC. However, the ROTC has customarily restricted its target to male college students only. The websites of the Korean Navy and Air Force explicitly inform applicants that only male applicants qualify. Regarding this, an official with the Ministry of National Defense says, “The Chief of Staff of each army hold the right to select ROTC trainees. Before deciding to accept female students as ROTC trainees, we have to consider the demand for female commissioned officers, currently supplied by Samgun Military Academy and the pool of university graduate officers. We also have to consider the Armed Force’s long-term supply and demand of human resources before making any decisions.”
Seo Yu Kyung (Ph.D., lecturer at Kyonghee University) formally took up this issue at a seminar for citizens’ participation in administrative reforms that was held last year. She says, “The Ministry of Defense announced that it would secure more quality female staff and increase the ratio of women staff in the military. The Army, Navy and Air Force military academies have already opened their doors to women, training them to become commissioned officers in their own right. It does not make sense that the ROTC should be the only institution to refuse to admit women trainees.”
Dr. Seo also said that a survey conducted among women university students revealed that 81% of the respondents regarded military careers favorably, and 71% approved of government plans to expand the number of servicewomen. The survey results show that more and more women students are favoring military careers.
To women college students, the biggest incentive in applying to the ROTC is the considerable privileges bestowed on ROTC members.
According to PR information provided in the ROTC websites, the mandatory service period in the training program for ROTC is only 2 years and 4 months. Also, ROTC members are provided a variety of scholarships, and are guaranteed employment as well as preferential treatment in every area of society when they complete their military service. Besides these privileges, the ROTC also provides attractive welfare services such as priority in renting or buying apartments and subsidies for child education.
A member of a women group called for consistency in defense policies, saying, “Since the Ministry of Defense has already announced plans to increase the ratio of women military staff from 1.4% to 5%, it should also open the way for more women to be trained as commissioned officers through the ROTC.”