Just a few days away from the General Student’s Association (GSA) election day, GSA candidates and campaigners passionately appealed to the voters despite the cold weather. With the undivided attention, General Female Student's Association (GFSA) also enthusiastically campaigned with its slogan “Your Better is My Better” and ultimately won the election. However, the reaction of students is divided into students who claim that GFSA is crucial to protect the rights of female students and students who question the significance of GFSA itself.
Kim Chang-dae, a freshman in the Division of Natural Sciences cautiously commented that "In the past when female students were a minority, GFSA's duty was to represent them. Yet, because I think that female students are not a minority anymore, I believe GSA can also accept the opinions of female students and make improvements for them." However, Kang Jisu a freshman in the Division of Social Sciences disagrees. "I have heard that male-female students ratio at HYU is seven to three. To ensure the convenient school lives for female students, GFSA's role is essential." Students’ opinions of women’s position in society apparently differ and no certainty about the controversies can be guaranteed.
Probing into the Dispute
The core values that this year’s GFSA candidates are pursuing are “recognition, communication, and change.” Ha Seung-Hyun, the new president of the GFSA, said, “In HYU, 80 percent of the students are male. Female students, who make up about 20 percent, are physically different and we need to care about the very minimal problems like safety for female students. I believe that female students of HYU are still in need of welfare.” Ha also added, “We do not ask male students to make sacrifices or give privileges to female students. By recognizing what female students are in need of, we are trying to pursue harmony of both male and female students with more mature communication.”
The new president of the GFSA pledged to improve the campus life of female students. Their election pledges include the HY Better Life Project, HY Better Care Project, HY Better Girls Project, and HY Better Campus Project. HY Better Life Project includes establishing web sites and SNS sites with the purpose to communicate better with female students. GFSA also promises to prepare daily supplies like shampoo, conditioner, and pads for the convenience of female students. HY Better Care Projects focuses on health and medical care for female students. HY Better Girls Project focuses on long-term projects such as providing lectures every month that may attract female students, promoting the Hanyang Alpha Girl Contest, Do It Yourself Project, and supplying campus magazines. Lastly, HY Better Campus Project includes repairing lounges for female students and installing CCTV security systems, and streetlights.
Obviously, there are many pledges that could attract the eyes of some voters’ interests. Kang Jisu in the Division of Social Sciences said, "I really like the promises of GFSA as a female student at HYU, for I believe it can make our campus life more convenient. I sincerely hope that these promises will be put into action." However, some Hanyangians are doubtful about the practicality of these pledges. "Honestly, I believe that election pledges are a mere decoration to win the election. Although I believe that most of their pledges will be fulfilled, I cannot say that their promises actually improve our campus lives because most students are not informed of what GFSA actually does," Kim Na-Hyeon, majoring in Korean Language and Literature responded. Kim's response is supported by the comments of Hanyangians. Lee Seo-Hee, a junior in the Division of Business Administration said, "I do not know anything about the pledges of GFSA or what the members of GFSA do." According to a survey proceeded from November 28 to November 29, 14 out of 100 Hanyangians said they did not know what GFSA does, indicating that a portion of Hanyangians are not informed of the role of GFSA. Also, 39 out of 100 Hanyangians said they do not think that GFSA is doing fine promoting the welfare of female students.
Why the Controversy?
This is not just a problem for the GFSA at HYU. GFSA of other universities encounter the same controversies. Kyung Hee University successfully proceeded with their GSA elections from November 22 to 25. The GFSA candidates of Kyung Hee University promised to communicate better and sympathize with female students. Their pledges include having a concert to share the daily lives of female students, monitoring classes to reduce sexual discrimination, and other services to promote welfare for female students.
Again, there are students who do not think that GFSA is focusing on making practical improvements for their campus lives. Kim Yoon-jee, majoring in Hospitality Management at Kyung Hee University said, "I don't think the promises of GFSA can improve our campus lives. For instance, I think that monitoring classes is not necessary. I have never thought that I was discriminated just because of gender." However, Byun Ga-young, majoring in Journalism and Communication at Kyung Hee University claimed that "If GFSA is not divided from GSA, it will be very difficult to protect the rights of all females in our university, including female janitors."
On the top of such controversies, GFSA does not exist at all in some universities in Seoul, including Seoul National University and Kookmin University. GFSA of Korea University has been inactive since 2004. Sungkyunkwan University and Hongik University had been inactive for several years as well.
Professor Lee Hwa-jin of the Hanyang Institute of Woman commented, "In the 1990s, our society had undergone a dramatic change due to democracy. GFSA in many universities today are an outcome of such democratic movements for women. But, when problems are solved, people tend to relax. Since GFSA's movement in making women's lives more convenient was effective in the 1990s, female students now seem to be more relaxed than the past." When she was questioned about the controversy of GFSA, she also added "Students now are very diverse. Their thoughts are diverse. That is why it is difficult for GFSA to recognize what all the students really want."
Professor Lee Na-young of Chung-ang University also said, “Compared to the past, the number of female students has gradually increased. There are also female students who become presidents of GSAs. This is probably why the GFSA encounters controversies. People now think that women have gained certain equality.”
What is Going on Overseas?
As it can be seen through interviews with university students, there are students who have stated that women have gained a certain position in society. Yet, some people believe that women are still a minority.
In the United States, most universities excluding women's colleges do not have GFSA. There is always a student body council, but not an association just for women. Catherine Park, a student from University of California, Berkeley said, "I think GFSA itself makes us think more about sexual discrimination. Having a GFSA apart from GSA might make women a minority in Korea. Since our school does not have GFSA, we never consider ourselves any different from male students," when asked how she thinks about GFSA in Korea. "Our student body council is open to both male and female students," she added.
Until the 1970s in Korea, women's voices could not be heard. As the laws and bills ensuring the rights of women were made, women became significant figures in society. However, from economic and political points of views, Korean women are a minority. Professor Lee said, "Although Korean women became very influential compared to the past, problems of income, discrimination, and influence of patriarchal culture are still serious." Korean women in administrative positions make up less than 10 percent, which ranks second to last among the OECD countries. Sweden, on the other hand, is said to be an egalitarian society for both genders. The incomes of Swedish women are about 80 percent of working Swedish men, which ranks the highest among the OECD countries. Swedish women in the National Assembly make up about 45 percent whereas Korean women make up only about 15 percent.
Compared to Sweden, the Korean government has a long way to go. Professor Lee criticized the social welfare of Korea by saying, "Social welfare of Korea is limited compared to some countries in Northern Europe, which could end up making a society more disadvantageous for women."
A single university in Seoul might not have a powerful impact on all the members of society. Yet, as they have promised in their fliers, the GFSA at HYU can start off and establish a firm foundation for society.
“I still think women are a minority in some ways. Especially in the Korean society, any association tends to be male-oriented. In a male-oriented association, there is a limit in understanding the females," stated Professor Lee Hwa-jin. She also suggested, "It is extremely difficult to listen to every student in school. In order to calm such controversies about GFSA down, GFSA must be independent. What kind of things GFSA does or what kind of influence GFSA has do not matter. Just the independence of GFSA from GSA has a significant meaning."
Professor Lee Na-young also said, “Associations in Korea are usually male-oriented. In this case, problems of the women can be neglected. I believe everyday life is about politics. GFSA will have to consider the practical needs of female students.”
The new president of the GFSA said, “GFSA was not able to recognize the female students’ needs. Passive welfare was what the GFSA had been pursuing. As I have mentioned, we will try to communicate better and recognize the practical needs of the female students. We will also try our best to establish an identity as an independent association. We, as the proud female students of HYU, will change the framed image of the GFSA and enhance the value and confidence of female students.”