The Korean term for a woman who is yet to marry is “mi-hon”. More and more South Korean women are choosing instead to be called “bi-hon”: to not marry, to not have children.
South Korean YouTube star Baeck Ha-Na is one of these women.
“Society made me feel like a failure for being in my 30s and not yet a wife or a mother. Instead of belonging to someone, I now have a more ambitious future for myself,” Baeck told Bloomberg.
Baeck and her co-host Jung Se-young are using their Youtube channel, SOLOdarity, as a platform to talk about dismantling the patriarchy in South Korea and giving women spaces for themselves—and just themselves. The five-month old channel now has over 23,000 subscribers.
Baeck is also a part of EMIF, an acronym for the “Elite without Marriage, I am going Forward” network. The women who participate in this group meet to discuss being a “bi-hon” and how the government is failing them in its attempts to solve the country’s long-declining birthrate. Most of them have chosen to remain single. The resulting hashtag of their movement, #NoMarriage, is garnering considerable attention in and outside South Korea.
While this is happening at a time when the economy is bearing the brunt of the declining population, Baeck and her co-host have labeled the government’s approach to increasing birth rates as “abusive” and "frustrating".
According to the World Bank, South Korea has the lowest birthrate out of countries in the developed world. In 2010, 64.7 percent of women in South Korea believed marriage is a necessity for women. In 2018, only 48.1 percent agreed with this response.
More than 20 percent of wedding halls in its capital, Seoul, have shut down. The city’s education office announced in 2019 that they will be closing three elementary and middle schools due to a dearth of students. Other cities like Busan have seen a 26 percent drop in elementary students registering to enroll.
The same goes for middle schools and high schools, with a fall of 43 percent and 40 percent respectively. South Korea’s workforce, which is currently at 37.6 million people, is expected to fall by 52 percent in the next 50 years.
President Moon Jae-in and his administration has begun to tackle the population problem with the founding of the Presidential Committee on Aging Society and Population Policy in 2017. “We must focus on how marrying, giving birth, doesn’t limit the lives of women,” he said at the event for launching said committee.
“We are now at the last golden time to fix a serious population problem,” said Moon.
“The government’s biggest problem is that they aren’t listening to the women – the actual subjects that have to bear the children and have to raise the children,” Kang Han-byul, EMIF’s co-founder, told Bloomberg. She then expressed how the government disregards the “many unspoken things that actually happen” to women who marry and give birth.
For now, the government is offering incentives and singles events across the nation to facilitate partnership. One town apparently also asked women to hand in their photos attached to an application with their height, weight, and employment history, according to Bloomberg's report.
Women like Baeck and Kang believe South Korea’s current policies provide no concrete support for women and what they inevitably undergo after giving birth – both “physically, [and] mentally,” as Kang stated.
Many of them also believe that having children will take a toll on their careers and ambitions, especially in South Korea’s competitive job market.