KOREA: C-Section Rates and Gender Equality

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.


Ms. V. (South Korea)

Ms. V returned from a 3-year stint in Seoul, South Korea and is now living in the US in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her partner, their two kids, three ferocious felines, and a dog named Avon Barksdale. She grew up all over the US, mostly along the east coast, but lived in New York City longer than anywhere else, so considers NYC “home.” Her love of travel has taken her all over the world and to all but four of the 50 states. Ms. V is contemplative and sacred activist, exploring the intersection of yoga, new monasticism, feminism and social change. She is the co-director and co-founder of Samdhana-Karana Yoga: A Healing Arts Center, a non-profit yoga studio and the spiritual director for Hab Community. While not marveling at her beautiful children, she enjoys reading, cooking, and has dreams of one day sleeping again.

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Delivering my baby by C-section was, for me, something that would be only done in an emergency — if the baby’s heart rate was falling during labor or something else serious that would have threatened my baby or myself.

I delivered my first baby vaginally, and I intended to do the same for this one.  My due date is March 21, 2011, and I have already started reading my “Hypnobirthing” book that got me through the beginning of labor with my first.  I hadn’t ruled out having an epidural again, but if things happened too fast, I wanted to have some relaxation tricks up my sleeve.

At 35 weeks last week, I was already ½ centimeter dilated!  This didn’t alarm me because I walked around for the last two weeks being 3 centimeters dilated with my first child.  But, I was excited that things were happening.  My body was planning on birthing this baby!

But, things have recently taken a turn in a different direction… (more…)

Jennifer Burden

Jennifer Burden is the Founder and CEO of World Moms Network, an award winning website on global motherhood, culture, human rights and social good. World Moms Network writes from over 30 countries, has over 70 contributors and was listed by Forbes as one of the “Best 100 Websites for Women”, named a “must read” by The New York Times, and was recommended by The Times of India. She was also invited to Uganda to view UNICEF’s family health programs with Shot@Life and was previously named a “Global Influencer Fellow” and “Social Media Fellow” by the UN Foundation. Jennifer was invited to the White House twice, including as a nominated "Changemaker" for the State of the World Women Summit. She also participated in the One Campaign’s first AYA Summit on the topic of women and girl empowerment and organized and spoke on an international panel at the World Bank in Washington, DC on the importance of a universal education for all girls. Her writing has been featured by Baby Center, Huffington Post, ONE.org, the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life, and The Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists.” She is currently a candidate in Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs in the Executive Masters of Public Affairs program, where she hopes to further her study of global policies affecting women and girls. Jennifer can be found on Twitter @JenniferBurden.

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