Skip to content

South Korea

Period Stigma in South Korea

My experience in South Korea:

I recently visited South Korea in the summer of 2023. I stayed in Seoul, the capital city, and traveled down to Daejeon, where my extended family resides. Seoul is very industrially and culturally rich in ways of food, fashion, technology, and more. This very modern and fast paced society is hit with a roadblock: population decline. There may be this stereotype of South Korea, that it is a pressure cooker, waiting to burst because of its vigorous academic schedule to the taxes. Hagwon or also known as the place students go after school to study more so they don’t fall behind. Many couples choose to not have kids because of the amount of work that is placed in the hands of the Mother. Moms are told to not work, to be a stay at home wife, clean and make sure your child isn’t failing school. The expectations of mothers aren’t ideal, possibly even restraining. However, not every family is a perfect two parent couple, there are thousands of mothers who have to work in the market, restaurant, or other very labor intensive works. So having a kid isn’t really ideal in fact for some it is a chore.

The population of South Korea is at 51.74 (2021). Compared to Vietnam it is almost half as increasing. Studies show that South Korea’s birth rate is rapidly decreasing by the year. According to The Guardian there was a -4.4% difference from 2022. In a growing, fast paced society, where the economy is declining, deaths have exceeded births. The only country in the world to have a fertility rate lower than 1 is South Korea. It is interesting because South Korea is following the same trends as Japan. In Japan there are many abandoned houses that are called Akiyas. The root of this problem is because of the population decline. Both South Korea and Japan are still recovering from COIVD-19 deaths, however it doesn’t help that both countries’ fertility rates are very low.The average weight of a Korean baby is 3679 g or more than 8 pounds. The average weight of a baby of European descent is 7.5 pounds. Korean women have a very hard time carrying and birthing babies. The South Korean government has made implements in health care and financial aid to flatten the stigma around children in Korea. However, these policies do not face the root of the problem: Period Stigma.

When I went to a mall or a baekhwajom in South Korea, I started my period. I needed to buy a pad or two to last me until I went back home. There are pharmacies everywhere in Korea. Every building with a hospital or a clinic will most likely have a pharmacy. After walking to the nearest one, I asked the lady for a pad. She didn’t want to meet my eyes nor was she very kind about me purchasing one. The stigma around periods is immense in South Korea but so are the prices. A box with 4 pads was 3,000 won which equals 2.26 USD. In the US, a box of pads would average around 8 dollars for a pack of 50 pads. Sanitary products are way too expensive in South Korea.

The main root of menstrual stigma comes from economic strains. In South Korea, there is something known as “insole girls.” Girls who cannot afford sanitary pads so they wrap tissues around the insole of old shoes for a makeshift pad. A monthly stock of pads is equivalent to half of the minimum wage in South Korea. This leaves little to no room to buy food, rent, clothes, and other basic essentials to live. It doesn’t help that menstruation is very taboo. In many countries this topic is a silent one because it makes others “uncomfortable,” that it “isn’t fit for conversation.” However, the less we talk about the problem, the worse it gets. This menstrual stigma that is happening is because we don’t talk about it. We don’t want to talk about it because it makes everyone feel uncomfortable. We talk about people who are un-housed, natural disasters, and inflation prices but we fear the topic about periods. We must start these conversations, for the sake of South Korea’s economy. There is so much potential in the small country of South Korea however because of period poverty it is holding much of it back.