"They said that if we are trained from the beginning with the men, we will soon have equal opportunities as them when it comes to assignments and promotions, and better prospects as well. But those of us who know how things work in reality are skeptical about military co-education. The military is basically a male-oriented organization, and if we don't even have the Women's Army Corps School, how many women do you think will survive in the military? Do they expect us to become Amazons?" (a female reserve officer)
Following the creation of the women commissioned officers in the Army, Korea's Navy and Air Force also established posts for women commissioned officers. And with the Air Force Military Academy for women leading the way in 1997, the Army and Navy also opened the doors of their military academies to women. This year will witness the appointment of the first batch of women commissioned officers trained in regular military academies. Amidst this trend, the army plans to abolish the Women's Army Corps School - the cradle of women commissioned and noncommissioned officers - and turn the Third Military Academy and Noncommissioned Officers Corp School into co-ed schools. This policy is welcome in the sense that it is in keeping with the times and aimed at opening the military to more women.
However, with the impending abolishment of the Women's Army Corps School in November, many women soldiers are voicing worries, saying that "simply pushing the women into a male-dominated organization does not mean equality." In particular, critics point out that it is unreasonable to throw the two genders together in the Third Military Academy, since the women are top-quality human resources aiming for a life-time career in the military whereas the men are mostly serving their mandatory military term.
Advocate of military co-education are mostly young female soldiers who believe that first of all, it would be better to start from the beginning with the male soldiers since they have to adapt to the male-dominated military, and second, overall gender equality would improve in terms of assignments and promotions.
However, women in higher positions such as captains and above disagree, pointing out that "theory and reality do not go together." Recalls Captain P, "I was thrown into the 7th division, where I was shown no consideration for my physical needs. I had to sneak out to go to the bathroom, stuff my sanitary napkins in my pants pockets..." Captain P strongly opposes military co-education, saying that it would "call for too big a sacrifice on the part of women in a situation where sleeping quarters and other facilities, as well as cultural awareness regarding women soldiers, are still in their rudimentary stages."
Captain K has heard of many women in the military who suffer from gynecological diseases such as acute cystitis, ovarian cyst and irregular periods thanks to harsh training that does not take into account the female physique and the negative opinion of male fellow trainees. Complains K, "If the system does not acknowledge physical differences and forces women to adapt to male particularities, how can you call that equality?" She claims that "military co-education should be adopted gradually, and only after sufficient research and experiments have been carried out in many different ways on the characteristics of male and female soldiers."
As for assignments and promotions, Captain L reasons that "there is no guarantee that men and women soldiers will be treated equally," saying, "Which commander in his right mind would side a female soldier when he may become the center of all sorts of rumors?" Reserve officer K also points out, "Promotions are a matter of life and death in the military. A captain pulls out all the stops when lobbying to become a major. It's a fight that women soldiers simply cannot win."
Dokgo Sun, a researcher with the Institute of National Defense who has been studying the plan for military co-education, says that "advanced countries have already moved towards this trend." Dokgo is of the opinion that "the more important issue at the moment is how to transform the Women's Army Corps School." At the symposium on September 6 to commemorate the birth of women in the military, Dr. Dokgo plans to recommend the establishment of a bureau within the Ministry of National Defense that can function as a research and educational center for women soldiers to replace the Women's Army Corps School.
However, according to active and reserve officers who have served as instructors for women soldiers, "implementing military co-education in earnest requires a great deal of funds, but the military only regards military co-education as a means of reducing military spending." Thus, it would be "unrealistic to expect the creation of a new organization with clout in policies concerning women soldiers."
Captain L says, "The unity of the Women's Army Corp School graduates was a great strength in times of difficulty. Shouldn't women account for at least 5% of the military if we are to have a chance to stand on our own feet?" Reserve officer K says, "Even the young male officers think 'training servicemen = investment vs training servicewomen = waste.'" She stresses that "until the military is ready to accept women without prejudice, the plan to abolish the Women's Army Corps School should be put on hold."