KOREA: C-Section Rates and Gender Equality
I was 32-weeks pregnant with my son when we moved to Seoul from Seattle. When my spouse first got this assignment my knowledge of Korea was admittedly narrow, but because of all the research I had been doing on pregnancy and childbirth, the one bit of information that I did know was that Korea had an even higher rate of C-Section than the United States. The rate of c-section in the US is a staggering 30%, while here in South Korea it is an even more staggering 37.7%.
One of the things that is surprising about this number is that, in a study conducted in 2000, when polled, the majority of pregnant South Korean women said they prefer vaginal delivery. The study was done when the c-section rate was nearing 40% and researchers wanted to know if this rise had to do with women’s desires and attitudes towards childbirth. The study concluded that the rapid rise in C-section rates was related to health care practitioners and the health care system, not women’s attitudes or desires.
So, what’s happening? In a country that has skyrocketed to first world status in 50 short years, why aren’t women getting the medical care they desire?
Confucian ideals and principles lie at the heart of this rapidly modernizing society. They are the subtext to every interaction. The main principles of Confucianism can be very broadly summarized as:
- Follow the Golden Rule
- Be loyal to your family
- Respect your elders and superiors
- Worship your ancestors
- Know your role in society and fulfill it to the best of your ability
While I do not disagree in theory with all of these principles, their effects on this society have led to an inequity among men and women that, I believe, leads to difficult circumstances for women when it comes to birthing. Being loyal to family and respecting elders and superiors means being, if no longer submissive, at least deferential not only to the men in their lives but to anyone whose position in society is “higher” than theirs.