How Korean immigrant wives are breaking the glass ceiling


Kim Hana, a uniformed Korean Nepalese police officer

Kim Hana is one of the few police officers in South Korea who is not ethnically Korean

Marriage in South Korea is almost considered a social responsibility.

Since the 1990s, the South Korean government has had to develop policies to encourage Korean men, local men who were initially unable to find a match, to marry women from abroad.

However, the lives of these “married immigrant” women are not easy. Some people face stigma when they move to South Korea, and there are reports of domestic violence and abuse.

Many of these women come to Korea without even knowing the language, but nevertheless they are opening up important places for themselves in Korean society.

These are part of their story.

Police officer

Kim Hana first met her husband on a blind date arranged by her aunt in Nepal.

He flew from South Korea and within three days they were discussing the marriage. They moved to South Korea that same year.

According to her, opportunities are limited in Nepal, so it is not uncommon for young Nepalese to want to go abroad for marriage or work.

Fast-forwarding 11 years, she is now one of the few police officers who are not ethnically Korean.

A 31-year-old woman who changed her name in Nepal said, “I may not be enough as a police officer compared to Koreans, but I don’t have time to think about it.” (Samjanarai) When she became a naturalized citizen.

“When I wear a uniform and have a gun on my waist, I don’t think anyone has a problem with” not looking Korean “,” she says.

She works as a diplomat and acts as a bridge between the Nepalese and Korean communities.

Kim Hana and two other Nepalese students.

After moving to South Korea, Kim Hana (right) studied at university, where she met other Nepalese students.

According to the government-run multicultural family support center, the number of women who came to South Korea and married Korean men has doubled in recent years from 120,110 in 2007 to 287,298 in 2019.

However, the stereotype that East and South Asian migrant wives are international marriage agents or are “sold” to their husbands still exists, as does discrimination.

“I remember a man yelling at me on the bus when my son was little.’Vietnam, sit here!’, Said Kim Hana. Vietnamese women are Korean foreign wives. It accounts for about one-third, and the largest proportion.

But Kim Hana was able to shake this off a lot-and feel that Korean society has progressed by including more people from different cultural backgrounds.

Since 2008, the Korean government has established a multicultural support center.

“Now we have a big foreign community and we met a lot of people while we were working,” she said.

Immigrant rights activists

Won Ok Kum first met her husband in her native Vietnam.

The peasant’s daughter now holds a master’s degree in legal affairs and previously held the title of Mayor of Seoul.

Last year she ran to become a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, one of the few non-Korean peoples, but she lost.

Nonetheless, she continues to work and is campaigning for legislation to strengthen surveillance of discrimination against migrant workers.

Won Ok Kum stands outside the office and has Korean and Vietnamese signboards on display.

Gil Won-ok has challenges in living in Korea, but there are more opportunities in Korea than returning home.

A turning point for her was when she helped a Vietnamese worker arrested for striking working conditions.

“In Vietnam, I couldn’t imagine holding them accountable, but when I saw their workers win the proceedings, I realized that South Korea could make a real difference,” she said. rice field.

Nevertheless, she met her share of frustration. Recently, when trying to help an migrant worker extend his visa, the immigration officer refused to speak to her using customary honorifics.

“If I were treated that way, imagine how other immigrants are treated,” she says.


When Kira * arrived in Seoul from the Philippines in 1999 at the age of 24, she was unable to communicate with her Korean husband. She had never been abroad and this was her first relationship.

They were matched through the Unification Church in the Philippines, but a few years later her marriage collapsed.

He started drinking and finally left the family home, cutting off financial support for her and her three children.

“He asked for a divorce, but he refused at first because there is no divorce in the Philippines,” she says.

Left unaided, Kayla sought a job as a teacher.

“I’ll work long hours, but sometimes I didn’t bring home enough money to cover all the bills,” she explains.

Hello and Korean words are written on a piece of paper.

Many immigrant wives arrive in South Korea without knowing the language

Today, Kyla works as a mentor for immigrant wives and is also an interpreter for police and immigration offices.

She tells Menty that they not only marry their families, but also have a culture. Kyla adds that support from the multicultural center, which has increasingly included men in conversations, has also proven useful.

“Korean men are educated about what it means to start a multicultural family that never happened before,” she says.

Looking to the future, Kayla wants her children to have the same opportunities as other Korean children.

Her daughter has been trained to become a K-POP star, her middle son has begun working for an IT company, and her eldest son is serving his forced military service in the Navy.

“I did everything I could [help] My children thrive, “she says.

* Renamed.