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“My Body My Choice” – My Story of Reproductive Privilege

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Tomorrow I’m getting the second IUD (Intra-Uterine Device) of my life. Something going into my uterus is as personal as it gets, but as a researcher who should be starting a PhD on Sexual Health and the Internet in South Korea (one of the cases being the IUD) next year, it is, as we say: “The Personal Is Political”.

With under 20mg of levonorgestrel, the Kyleena (and the Skyla/Jaydess) emits 1/10 the amount of hormones than do oral contraceptives. They’re cost-effective (130€ in NL and FR), and once they’re installed, they last five years – bringing their monthly cost to a mere 0.5€. For many women, they come with fewer side-effects than does the Pill. It is particularly effective for young and sexually active women because of its low failure rate and because of the convenience it offers. IUDs are offered fully free of cost to women under 21 years of age in NL and FR.

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As opposed to the Mirena, the Kyleena contains silver, so it can be easily identified on an ultrasound.

*  *  *

In France and in the Netherlands, I am free to choose a contraceptive method. I am free to not bleed every month. Even if I am dating a woman. Even if I haven’t yet given birth. Should I get an unwanted pregnancy, I will be free to terminate it on my own or with my partner and it will be reimbursed in full to me. Not every woman has the luxury I do.

I can talk to my friends about abortion and different contraceptive methods and sexual health and sex and orgasms and everything in between (And I do. A lot). One of the first conversations I have with partners is, “So, what is going to be our method of contraception?”, and then “If I unexpectedly fall pregnant, what are we going to and how are we going to bear the costs, and will my/your insurance cover this?”.

My friends in South Korea do not have this luxury. A girlfriend’s first method was not “prayer” (like Grace from Will&Grace), but to starve herself until she fell underweight so she would stop having periods. Another friend would take the bus or the subway to a nearby neighbourhood and buy condoms because she was afraid people she knew would recognise her and call her “a whore”. A friend told me she does not dare ask her male partners to use condoms because they keep saying it is a breach of trust if she does, and they’ve been “pulling out at the perfect time” for years – and why does she have a problem?

There are hundreds of thousands of abortions being conducted in South Korea, every year. None of them are legal, so none of them are administered according to any standard. None of them are reimbursed. If a young woman goes to a regular gynaecologist, they’ll look her up and down and ask “Why have you been whoring around?” And tell them “We don’t do those kinds of procedures” and redirect them to a much shadier place. Youth under 19 are barred from buying condoms online. Convenience stores and adult stores will (wrongly) tell them it’s illegal for them to buy condoms altogether. They are told: “No – you slut”. They are systematically, and illegally discriminated from having safe sex.

I did not choose, and am not choosing an IUD for solely contraceptive purposes. I am choosing to have one for two reasons:

  1. I currently live in a country where it is reimbursed by national health insurance (basisverzekering). And I may be going to a country where it is not even offered as an option to nulliparous women;
  2. The IUD stops periods for 50% of women who use it. And it’s been great. I am fine with being a woman. But I HATE PERIODS. Fucking hate ’em. I’m a swimmer. I’m an equestrian. I’m a traveller. And I do not plan on having children in the near future. Periods are a nuisance. I’ve been blessed to only bleed lightly without cramps for eleven years, but it’s still hours lost and stress spent on something that’s unproductive. And now technology can help me live life without it. If you’re an ecofeminist who is opines that “women were born to bleed and it’s beautiful to do so”, that’s your opinion. I respect your decision. You respect mine. If you’re a man, it’s not up to you to decide what a woman does with her body, the same way I don’t tell you to get a vasectomy.

Even in the Netherlands, where the NGO Women on the Web currently helps South Korean women terminate unwanted pregnancies in a home-administered, safe way by way of medication (which they smuggle by hiding in creative ways into seemingly innocuous parcels), discrepancies exist:

When I called my GP yesterday to check my to book an appointment, I was told that my usual GP was “unavailable” because “he doesn’t do IUD insertions because he is, you know, not a female doctor”. Even though I had said “To me, it doesn’t matter, a GP is a GP”. So now I have to wait an extra day, which is not the end of the world, but it shows how women’s bodies are still seen as something “sacred”, not to be touched by any other man who is not “her man”.

It’s still better than in Seoul, where, as part of routine health check-ups, young women undergo an ultrasound and are asked “Are you a virgin?”. If you say yes, the doctor will administer the ultrasound via the rectum. Which is, at least to me, the most uncomfortable thing in the world. Let’s also face it: How many young women who have had sex in a culture which shuns premarital sex, will admit they’re no longer a virgin, in front of their parents who must accompany them to the doctor’s appointment?

*  *  *

On May 25th, our Irish sisters and brothers overturned the 36th amendment, making abortion legal. Abortion remains illegal in 25% of the world. They’ve been made legal by the women and men fighting to gain their rights for years, even decades. South Korean feminists have been holding pro-choice rallies since October 2016.

I’ve had the privilege – of not having to go through an illegal abortion. Of having a French doctor taking an half an hour to talk to me about the different contraceptive options, and having the 300€+ fees (STD tests, hereditary cancer screening, ultrasound, cost of the IUD, and consultation fees) reimbursed to me. Of having European partners who grew up thoroughly studying what sexual consent, contraceptive options, and their partner’s rights to reproductive health talk to me freely about the options, and us going to our GPs, gyno, and urologist without social stigma or financial burden.

But some women will have to through unsafe abortions. Some will be abandoned by their partners and will have to deal with the financial, psychological, and physical stress alone and in shame. Some of them will give up a child for adoption. Some of them will give birth in a public toilet and abandon the newborn. Some of them will have no choice but to quit school or university with little governmental or social support. Some of them will, sadly, commit suicide. Some of them will purposely fall on their tummy and induce a miscarriage. Some of them will have to face a rapist and get him to consent to them having an abortion, because this is the law in South Korea.

*  *  *

“My Body My Choice” is the slogan used by BWAVE, the South Korean feminist group which holds weekly pro-choice protests. All women should have control over their own body. The personal is political. And this is why I have written a long-ass post on my uterus.

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Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that the Kyleena’s monthly cost was 3.6€, based on a 3-year efficiency period. The Kyleena lasts five, not three years, which makes its monthly cost 0.5€.

Owner of Soranet, South Korea’s Biggest Porn Hub, Taken into Custody After Three Years on the Run

The Prosecutor’s Office states: “The [site’s] administrators illegally earned profits totalling tens of billions of KRW (approx. millions of USD/EUR) over the past thirteen years”

An owner of Soranet, a man identified as Mr. Hong, was taken into custody on June 18th, 2018. He is one of four owners, two couples identified as the Hong family and the Song family. The owners are accused of not only distributing pornography, but also engaging in its production. They have been on the run, living in New Zealand and Australia, since the South Korean police launched an official investigation back in 2015. They’ve also appealed and lost the Ministry of Foreign Affair’s decision to confiscate their passports and to stop them from re-applying for one. The remaining three owners will be served subpoenas for investigation.

The illegal website, which ran from 2003 to 2016, is known for brokering underage prostitution and drug trafficking, violence against women including genital mutilation and conspiracy in gang rape, defamation, and extortion (Read more about my account of Soranet’s activities here).

The site and a linked Twitter account were officially taken down by the owners two years ago (Link), although similar sites have popped up to replace them.

The Prosecutor’s Office is also working on forcibly restituting their illegal earnings.

[Exclusive] Owner of "Soranet", South Korea's Biggest Pornographic Website,
Taken into Custody ([단독] 최대 음란물 사이트 원조 ‘소라넷’ 운영자 구속)
25 June, 2018. KBS
http://news.kbs.co.kr/news/view.do?ncd=3669561 

En Corée du Sud, les femmes à l’avant garde de #MeToo 
3 May, 2018. Tous les internets (ARTE)
https://youtu.be/0LyicbDm6Qg

Yeonmi Park becomes the first North Korean refugee to speak on Comedy Central

Follow this link to view the video at Comedy Central.

Yeonmi Park is the first North Korean defector to speak on Comedy Central, on Jordan Klepper’s The Opposition (Link). No, she isn’t debuting her career as a stand-up comedian. The humour game is subtle and strongly lined with political messages.

She discusses her disappointment at the Kim-Trump Singapore summit on June 12th, her life in North Korea being taught to “hate American bastards”, and feeling confused at the idea of people being able to love anyone else besides the Dear Leader when she saw the movie Titanic for the first time. When asked what pushed her to leave the country, she responds: “hunger”. She shows solidarity to displaced peoples by saying “Refugees are people too. No one should be punished for their birthplace”, and warns that “freedom is not free – we have to fight for our freedom”.

Ms. Park has already expressed her disappointment at the June 12th summit on Foreign Policy:

“He should have asked for some concessions from the North Korean side. If Trump really wants change, he should have asked [Kim] to open the concentration camps and let journalists go into the country”

And in a powerful video Opinion piece on the New York Times:

“When I saw the President of South Korea hugging Kim Jong-Un, I asked myself: Would he do the same with Hitler?”

“Kim is clever. He is using this moment to sanitize his global image, and prove how supreme he is at home. I’ve seen this show before”

And on her newly created YouTube channel:

“When Trump said […] Kim Jong-Un loves his people, is he out of his mind? What do you mean, Kim Jong-Un loves his own people? He uses starvation as a tool to control people. If he loves his people, he would not create concentration camps […]”

It’s refreshing to see North Korean human rights issues being discussed on a less serious channel such as Comedy Central, since the conventional media channels (newspapers, television interviews, panel discussions) target a very specific audience. More people, and people of different ages and interests need to know about what is happening inside North Korea, not just political science students, international relations experts, human rights activists and allies, and East Asia aficionados.

References

North Korean Dissidents Lament That Human Rights Are a Non-Issue as Trump Meets Kim
11 June, 2018. Foreign Policy
(Link)

Additional Reading

What to Read if You Want to Know More About North Korea
1 Jan, 2018. New York Times
(Link)

[Music] Enter eAeon, South Korea’s Modern Rock Prodigy With a Haunting Sadness

Singer-songwriter eAeon (이이언) has been creating music since 1996. One of my favourite artists of all time since I discovered his band “Mot” in 2006, he has since come on my radar once again for defending a South Korean voice actress who was fired for wearing a feminist t-shirt.

A mysterious character whose private life is closely guarded from the public, eAeon sometimes goes months, or even years, without social media presence. Having studied electrical engineering at Yonsei University and music technology at Korea University of Arts, he originally wanted to become a computer programmer, but chose music for its creativity. He often uses words such as “architecture” and “structure” when talking about his music. His team members complain about how difficult it is to reproduce his written music in play (Huffington Post, March 2016), and were recruited by eAeon for having a solid understanding of music theory.

His signature sound mixes electronica and jazz, while always giving us that synthesised, sad, ephemeral tone. Most of his solo music is produced entirely by himself and a computer, and uses experimental sounds and beats which are difficult to reproduce with a live band. He also looks for the “non-linear”, the atypical in his music. If motifs are taken from well-known genres of music, eAeon twists it to paint it over with that typical, blue sound he is well-known for. such experimental sound has even topped the charts in South Korea, usually dominated by the sweet, bubblegum and hip-hop sounds of K-Pop. His band, Mot, has received the Best New Artist award in 2005, and the Best Modern Rock Album award in 2008.

서울은 흐림 
시간은 느림 
추억은 그림 
그대는 흐림 
서울은 흐림 
생각은 느림 
널 그린 그림 
기억은 흐림
아무 말도 아무 일도 아무 예감도 없이 아무렇지 않게 하룬 가고 
아무 말도 아무 일도 아무 예감도 없이 아무렇지 않게 나도

Seoul is cloudy
Time goes slow
Memories are painted
You are cloudy
Seoul is cloudy
Thoughts are slow
Painted is you
Memories are cloudy
No words, nothing, no predictions, nothing happens, a day passes
No words, nothing, no predictions, nothing happens, to me

Such are the lyrics from a typical eAeon song. In an interview with SisaIn (March 2018), he talks about the hidden sweetness in his melancholic music: “Being sad requires great energy […] when we’re depressed and sad, we need to listen to such music and to find our energy […]”.

eAeon also seems to enjoy covering popular songs and adding his melancholic twist by tweaking the octaves and adding, as seen here in his rendition of Harder Better Faster Stronger by Daft Punk.

Photo credits: Topclass Magazine at Chosun Media

Discography

non linear mot
Non-Linear
2004
Universal Music

strange weather
이상한 계절 (Strange Weather)
2007
Sony BMG

guilt free
Guilt-free
2012
Elephant Music/Sony Music

ashcraft
재의 기술 (Ashcraft)
2016
Sony Music

Follow eAseon on Twitter: https://twitter.com/eaeon
Follow Mot on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bandmot.official

2018 Oslo Freedom Forum

I was hired to work as an interpreter to the North Korean delegation at the Oslo Freedom Forum for the second time (the first time being 2016). This year also marked the 10th anniversary of the Oslo Freedom Forum.

In a nutshell, OFF is a a forum and a community of people dedicated to protecting and improving fundamental human rights around the world. It’s fun: There’s always an art performance, and since a few years an ethical fashion show (whose models are human rights activists and speakers from past years), booths by tech companies who offer services which can be used to protect civil rights activists in repressive regimes, and lots of opportunities for people to connect.

Human rights activists have a platform to voice their hopes, obstacles, and plans. Philanthropists come to learn more about projects activists are currently running, to ask in-depth questions about what they need, what they plan to do, and what their current challenges are. Entrepreneurs can pitch their technologies to activists and the general public.

This year, I was unfortunately unable to attend all but two speeches: the phenomenal speech by Fatemah Qaderyan of the Afghan Dreamers and the talk by Megha Rajagopalan of Buzzfeed China on the Chinese police state. I’m waiting for all the individual talks to be uploaded on the OFF YouTube channel, but in the meanwhile the livestream of the event is available in its entirety (Day 1 and Day 2).

I’m also amazed by how a team of about twenty can run a meeting involving nearly a thousand people so smoothly. I also appreciate how the team remains efficient and low-key: staff members are approachable, friendly, and professional at all times. On the last night people let a their hair down a little, and even the most serious senior staffer starts to smile more now that the most important parts are over. And they know how to party.

They also cut down on all unnecessary costs: staff members fly with cheaper airlines (with many leaving at odd times of the day…such as 5am), stay at cheaper hotels, and don’t splurge – like we see many “non-profits” and NGOs do these days. This is consistent with what I’ve witnessed at other interpreting trips with HRF: I’ve seen them get up and leave a restaurant because the prices were too high (this is why restaurants should have a menu outside their door). They never stay longer than necessary for work, and work hard while they’re on location.

Interview with the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) and Kang Chol-hwan of The North Korea Strategy Center

Interview on Facebook Live with Lilia Luciano and Ji Seong-ho of Now Action & Unity for Human Rights (NAUH)

Interview with Mr. Kang Chol-hwan for AJ+

North Korean breakfast session with Mr. Ji Seong-ho, Mrs. Park Yeonmi and Mr. Kang Chol-hwan

Working lunch session hosted by Funraise with North Korean team

Interview with the North Korean team at the park

The North Korean team had three very different former speakers: Mr. Ji Seong-ho (President at NAUH), Mr. Kang Chol-hwan (author of Aquariums of Pyongyang) and Mrs. Yeonmi Park (known for her advocacy in the United States and author of In Order to Live). They’re from three different age groups and backgrounds, and have very different experiences escaping from the North and settling in the South.

All three of them have experienced carrying out activism for North Korean human rights in both South Korea and in the United States (and beyond). Two of them have written books that have become bestsellers. One of them was invited to the State of the Union address earlier this year.

I’m always happy to work at OFF, not just because of the amazing weather and Norwegian seafood (which I must admit played a big part – I was also reunited with my childhood fave bread topping, brunost), but because I learn so much on the job, and I’m treated with respect for my work (not all employers see interpreters as professionals, but “people who speak a coupla languages”).

As a South Korean, I’m ignorant about many things North Korean refugees experience. Hearing about the experiences of refugees turned human rights activists is a privilege, since it’s one thing to read about someone’s story through the lens of the media, and quite another to hear it from their heart.

Watch speeches by North Korean human rights activists here:
My Impossible Escape from North Korea
Ji Seong-ho, Oslo Freedom Forum. 2015.

A North Korean Rescue Story
Lee Hyeonseo, Oslo Freedom Forum. 2014.

North Korea's Black Market Generation
Park Yeonmi, Oslo Freedom Forum. 2014.

Ten Years in North Korea's Gulags 
Kang Chol-hwan, Oslo Freedom Forum. 2010.

[Video] Anti-Spycam Rally Shakes Up Seoul (by dotface)

On June 9th, 30,000 women gathered in the university district of Hyehwa to protest against the biased investigation practices of the South Korean police.

The rally’s roots go back to May 2018, when a male nude model’s picture was illegally circulated on a single website. Within a few days, the woman who uploaded the picture was arrested. This incident is in stark contrast to the thousands of spycam videos and upskirt pictures (“molka”) of women which are taken by men and circulated through hundreds of social media and web channels, and which are chronically dismissed by the police as “beyond our scope of investigation”.

The protesters are seen chanting slogans and carrying pickets such as “No Dick, a Criminal” and “A Dick, Not a Criminal”, “The South Korean Government Is a Co-Conspirator In Raising Sex Criminals” and “My Everyday Life Is Not Your Porn”.

[News] South Korean women rise up: An interview with Nayoung Kim

Nayoung Kim is a feminist academic and attorney whom I’ve had the privilege to meet and discuss feminist issues with. An unapologetic feminist, Nayoung has worked towards ending sexual and physical violence against women for nearly a decade.

In this interview, you can find all the key issues South Korean feminists face today, from restricted reproductive rights (abortion being illegal), digital sex crimes (including revenge porn), the backlash against feminism in South Korea, and much more.

“In every sector of South Korean society, women are assigned second-class citizenship and deprived of equal opportunity. South Korea has the highest gender pay gap among OECD countries, with women earning 63 per cent of what men earn in 2017. Only 56.2 per cent of women are employed. Women are grossly underrepresented in positions of power, holding only 17 per cent of seats in the National Assembly and 10.5 per cent of management positions in the private sector.”

“In 2016, a study of 1,050 men revealed that 50.7 per cent had paid a woman for sex. This is a conservative estimate. K-Pop is a hotbed for sexual objectification. South Korean men’s sexual objectification of women cuts across national borders. Given free rein to sexually abuse women at home, men also travel overseas to prey on women in poorer countries.”

“I was born in 1990. In my generation, millions of female fetuses were aborted because people didn’t want daughters. Females that were born, against all odds, are targeted by men. Each year, more than 100 women die at the hands of their male partners. Thousands experience rape, domestic violence, and sexual harassment. Women are murdered just because they are women.”

“Nonetheless, South Korea did not see a mass women’s movement similar to that in the UK and North America until very recently. […] What I mean by this is that, in previous years, feminism had mostly been shared among a select group of activist and academic women. Nowadays, feminism is finally sweeping every corner of the nation and reaching ordinary women. I think this is possible largely due to the speed, anonymity, and expansiveness of the Internet. It allows women to share their rage with one another, to discover important feminist knowledge through consciousness-raising, and to organize in multitudes. Each year, hundreds of new activist projects are popping up and thousands of women are joining the women’s movement. These are mostly young women in their teens and 20s, but there are also women over 80 calling feminist organizations. The current feminist revolution gives me hope for a real change in South Korea.”

“There have been many backlashes to women’s activism, so many that I’m losing count. Men threatened to throw acid at women during the most recent protest against digital sexual violence. One man brought a knife to a memorial event for the woman stabbed to death in Gangnam. Men took pictures of women protesters and put them online for other men to make rape and death threats against. Companies fired female employees for posting about feminism on their personal social media accounts. Male fans turned against a female entertainer for reading a feminist book. Hiring committees have asked female applicants what they thought of the #MeToo movement, the message being, “We don’t want you here unless you promise to keep your mouth shut about sexual harassment.”

 

South Korean women rise up: An interview with Nayoung Kim
Feminist Current. 12 June 2018.
https://www.feministcurrent.com/2018/06/12/south-korean-women-rise-interview-nayoung-kim/

Interview with Mr. Kang Chol-hwan for Urix, Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK)

Special episode on the Kim-Trump summit from Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK). Norwegian only.

Mr. Kang Chol-hwan, author of Aquariums of Pyongyang and Director of the North Korea Strategy Center (Seoul/New York), discusses what he thinks about the upcoming meeting. You can also see me tag along, and for some reason, there’s a close-up of my boots.

https://tv.nrk.no/serie/urix (9:20-11:34)

Meer Korea in het Nederlands bij NPO Radio 1 / Learn more about Korea in Dutch at NPO Radio 1

Meer over Korea in het Nederlands? Bij NPO Radio 1 kan je meer weten over Seoel, Nord-Koreaanse vluchtelingen, de ouderen (die in geen wozoco’s wonen), en het klassieke stereotype over Koreanen als “gek op studeren” (Vertaald door een vriend van mij: Haegun Chung)
Want to know more about Korea in Dutch? At NPO Radio 1 you can learn more about Seoul, North Korean refugees, the elderly (who don’t live in care homes), and the classic stereotype about Koreans being “crazy into studying” (Translated by a friend of mine, Haegun Chung)

Deel 1: Met geluid en beeld – Met een Nord-Koreaanse vluchteling

Seoel ligt slecht een kilometer of 40 van de grens met Noord-Korea. Drie dagen geleden schoot dat land nog een raket af, wat weer door Zuid-Korea en Amerika werd beantwoord met militair machtsvertoon. De verhoudingen staan, kortom, op scherp. Hoe zouden bewoners van Seoel daarop reageren? En voor Noord-Koreanen is het een reden om te vluchten naar Zuid-Korea, maar dat wordt ze steeds moeilijker gemaakt.De 26-jarige Joeng-Ho is het gelukt en verslaggever Maarten Bleumers gaat in de Zuid-Koreaanse hoofdstad bij hem langs…
 

Deel 2: Ouderen in Seoul steeds meer aan hun lot overgelaten

De hele week reportages uit Seoul in Zuid-Korea. Waar ouderen vroeger door de jonge generatie werden verzorgd, maar dat lijkt nu te veranderen. Jongeren hebben andere prioriteiten en laten de ouderen meer en meer aan hun lot over.
 

Deel 3: Game hoofdstad van de wereld

 
Gaming-hoofdstad van de wereld. Zo wordt Seoel ook wel genoemd. De online-spelers zijn daar sterren zoals hier voetballers dat zijn. Bij een vriendje thuis spelen zijn ze wel ontgroeid… In hartje Seoel kun je naar het e-sport stadion om te kijken naar online-gamen. Verslaggever Maarten Bleumers begaf zich tussen de juichende jeugd.

Deel 4: Falen is geen optie in Zuid-Korea: Er zijn hele dorpen waar je kennis kunt testen

Het arbeidsethos in Zuid-Korea is erg hoog. Falen is geen optie. Dus als er om een baan te bemachtigen een test afgelegd moet worden dan ontstaat er een industrie om te zorgen dat je die test zo goed mogelijk gaat maken. Er is zelfs een hele wijk ontstaan rond deze industrie. Test-village, of Exam-village wordt die wijk ook wel genoemd. Samen met zijn vertaler Hegoen Chung neemt verslaggever Maarten Bleumers daar een kijkje.