The Gender Equality Support Centre in Gangneung Olympic Park is tucked around the corner of the Sports Complex Stadium. Situated beside the rock climbing wall, it is convenient for visitors to locate. It is a small office with minimum furniture. Most of the time, silence and muted atmosphere resides in the office. This quietude is pierced by the occasional ringing of the telephone. Most calls are for administrative work, but once in a while calls for help from victims of sexual harassment and assault are received. The victim on the other side of the telephone is tended to with instant assurance and eager ears.
A significant stride in gender violence awareness, it is the first time in Olympic/Paralympic history that a temporary Gender Equality Support Centre has been set up on site. With 4 venues in total, Alpensia Biathlon Centre, Jeongsun Alpine Centre, Gangneung Olympic Park and Phoenix Snow Park, this service has aided 36 sexual harassment cases reported during the Olympic/Paralympic period. In each venue two professional counsellors and an English translator were at hand to provide counselling service regarding incidents of sexual harassment and assault for the Olympic/Paralympic workforce.
I was fortunate enough to volunteer as an English translator in Gangneung Olympic Park Gender Equality Center during the Pyeongchang Olympic and Paralympic period. While actual work was minimal since the temporary Center only focused on counseling, I could gain an insight into the counsellor’s work and managed to interview Yoon Eun-seo, Head counsellor for Gangneung Domestic Violence and Sexual Harassment Counselling Centre.
What was you and your team’s main duty during the Olympic and Paralympic period?
Simply said, our duty was to provide support for victims of sexual violence and education to prevent such incidents. The police force was also assigned to the area during the Olympic and Paralympic period. But I would like to emphasize this center plays a majorly different function as the police only gets involved in crime incidents whilst we are here to provide service for all kinds of sexual discrimination, assault cases that are mainly civil cases. The difficulty in convicting perpetrators of sexual violence means this center fills in the gap by providing support for victims.
Pyeongchang Olympic and Paralympics gained attention from foreign and domestic media as it has been the first time in history to install gender equality centers in Olympic/Paralympic history. Why do you think this is significant? Do you think it has been successful?
This center provided the venue for a voice for sexual violence victims. It is often very difficult for such victims to come forward or to have a center/counselling service at hand. It is important that this center was established as it challenges the gender authorities and discrimination prevalent in society and readily provides a platform to speak out against such wrongdoings and crimes. I see the center as an unfinished work. The establishment of this venue is significant in itself, but the support system for victims of sexual/gender violence needs further organization and stronger implementation.
The Gangneung Gender Equality Center is a temporary work venue for you and your team. What do you do in your actual workplace?
I work in the Gangneung Domestic Violence and Sexual Harassment Counselling Centre. The issue of gender violence, as different from sexual violence, is the broad umbrella under which all my counselling cases are defined. Gender violence, as differentiated from sexual violence, is the discrimination, assault, and harassment caused by one’s social construct as a man or a woman. The glass ceiling challenging career women, the hierarchy existent in the social structure, and the socially marginalized status of women in society –these phenomena are examples of gender violence. I would also like to note that there is a huge gulf between the perspective of the established, those in their 40-50s, and the younger generation in approaching gender issues, the former on average being more discriminatory towards women.
As a university student pursuing gender equality higher education in her twenties I have not experienced explicit gender discrimination as a woman yet. I have read somewhere that the social constructs of gender discrimination are felt when one approaches 30s. Perhaps because of this reason I can observe so many men in their 20s complaining about how women of their age have nothing to complain about. How should one react to this?
As I have stressed before, the gender perspectives of men in their 40 and50s versus those in their 20s are very different. There is a huge generation gap, thus gender issues are a complex problem involving both gender and generation factors. Men in their 20s themselves don’t have a coherent perspective on gender issues. From my experience as a counsellor I have met a 20s man who would identify his university women friends and women working in bars differently. This is the naked truth of gender inequality. Even within the same generation a whole array of perspectives exists on gender issues, much like a spectrum, and opinion on gender issues are getting more complicated and subdivided. For this reason, I concluded perhaps leadership is the ability to encompass and understand this diversity. There does not seem to be a standard truth or the right thing. For example, you may be in conflict with your grandmother’s or your father’s generation on gender issues, but flexibility is golden. It allows you to understand – in those days they could have thought that way, but that does not mean you are compelled to act that way.
The Me-Too movement and the reactionary Pence Rule have become keywords of today’s society. What do you think of these keywords?
The Pence rule has been drastically distorted from its original meaning. There is so much fake news around these days that the press needs to play a crucial role in fact-checking. Me-Too and With-You are all about harmonious living. The accepted term of Pence Rule in Korea is about isolating each other. Sexual violence is not always physical. It is not the matter of someone touching you but when someone has power over you and is able to disregard your wishes and do as they please. The concentration of power, the ability to use one’s power to ignore another’s autonomy, that’s when sexual violence occurs.
You’ve mentioned previously that people tend to categorize women working in bars or brothels in a different category. This reminds me of the Min Byung-doo case where a politician who has been accused of sexually harassing a woman working in a brothel 10 years ago quit his job. I am ashamed to say I did not see this woman in a pleasant manner. Is this woman also a victim?
Yes. You’ve mentioned you identify yourself as a feminist and a liberal but it is very easy to naturally categorize yourself and women working in bars as different. It is important for us to engage in self-introspection to see whether we are not seeing women working in bars or brothels as someone inferior to “our kind”. There is a social stigma against prostitutes (it is an illegal occupation in Korea) – public opinion assesses them with a condescending and critical manner. However, it is important to realize these women are the same, and that they have sexual self-determination like no other. There needs to be full consensus through all stages of prostitution. In the case of the politician Min, this consensus did not go throughout. Therefore, the woman sexually harassed is identified as a victim as well. It is important to recognize the other as an equal human being capable of making choices. Respect for the other and communication between genders, I believe, are the two most important factors in preventing sexual violence.