South Korean politician blames women for rising male suicide rate
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South Korean politician blames women for rising male suicide rate

A South Korean politician has come under fire for making dangerous and baseless comments linking the rise in male suicides to the increasingly “dominant” role of women in society.

In his report, Seoul City Councilor Kim Ki-duck said the increasing participation of women in the workforce over the years has made it harder for men to find jobs and women willing to marry them.

He said the country had recently “begun to become a female-dominated society” and that this could “partly be responsible for the increase in suicide attempts among men.”

South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates among rich countries in the world, but it also has one of the worst records on gender equality.

Councilor Kim’s comments were seen as the latest in a series of out-of-touch statements by male politicians.

Councilor Kim of the Democratic Party reached his assessment after analyzing data on the number of suicide attempts on bridges along the Han River in Seoul.

A report published on the city council’s official website showed that the number of suicide attempts at the riverfront had risen from 430 in 2018 to 1,035 in 2023, while the proportion of men attempting suicide had increased from 67% to 77%.

Suicide prevention experts expressed concern about Mr Kim’s report.

“It is dangerous and unwise to make such claims without sufficient evidence,” Song Han, a professor of mental health at Yonsei University in Seoul, told the BBC.

He stressed that more men than women have committed suicide worldwide. In many countries, including the UK, suicide is the leading cause of death among men under 50.

Still, Prof. Song said the reasons behind the spike in male suicide attempts in Seoul needed scientific study, adding that it was “very regrettable” that the councilor had raised the issue of gender conflict.

In South Korea, there is a significant gap between the number of men and women employed full-time, with women disproportionately working in temporary or part-time positions. The gender pay gap is slowly closing, but women still earn 29% less than men on average.

In recent years, there has been a growing anti-feminist movement led by disillusioned young men who say they have been wronged by attempts to improve women’s lives.

Councillor Kim’s report, apparently reflecting similar views, states that the way to overcome the “female dominance phenomenon” is to raise public awareness of gender equality so that “men and women can enjoy equal opportunities”.

Koreans took to social media platform X to condemn the councilor’s comments, calling them “baseless” and “misogynistic”, with one user wondering if they were living in a parallel universe.

The Justice Party accused the councilor of “easily shifting the blame to women in Korean society who are struggling to avoid gender discrimination.” It called on him to retract his remarks and instead “properly analyze” the causes of the problem.

When the BBC approached Councillor Kim for comment, he said he had “no intention of criticising a society dominated by women” and was merely expressing his personal views on some of the consequences.

But his comments allude to a series of unscientific and sometimes bizarre policy proposals aimed at addressing South Korea’s most pressing social problems, including mental illness, gender-based violence and the lowest birth rate in the world.

Last month, another Seoul city councilor in his 60s posted a series of articles on the city council’s website encouraging young women to do gymnastics and pelvic floor exercises to increase the birth rate.

At the same time, a government think tank has recommended that girls start school earlier than boys so that their classmates will be more interested in each other when they are ready to marry.

“Such comments reflect how pervasive misogyny is in South Korea,” said Yuri Kim, director of the Korean Women’s Trade Union. She accused politicians and policymakers of failing to even try to understand the challenges women face, preferring instead to blame them.

“Blaming women for entering the workforce will only deepen the imbalance in our society,” she told the BBC.

Women currently make up 20% of South Korea’s parliament and 29% of all local councilors.

The Seoul City Council told the BBC that it has no process to verify what politicians post on their official website unless the content is illegal. It said individuals are solely responsible for their content and will face any consequences in the next election.

Additional Information: Hosu Lee and Leehyun Choi

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South Korean politician blames women for rising male suicide rate