Women in Seoul joined others around the world to take a chance to stand up for their rights by holding a rally against gender-based violence on International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8.
A feminist parade named Burning Warning was planned by six organizations including Flaming Femi Action, a women’s rights activist group and the Green Party, among others. More than 200 men and women joined this parade on March 8 to demonstrate their opposition to gender-based violence and other forms of discrimination in light of the ongoing “Burning Sun” scandal in Korea, linked to alleged crimes against women at a Gangnam nightclub.
“We conducted a survey regarding sexual violence in clubs,” said a Flaming Femi Action member in a speech at the rally. “Among the 110 female respondents, 77 percent said that they experienced sexual assault in a nightclub, including the Burning Sun club.”
The Burning Sun scandal came into light on January 28 when an employee of the Burning Sun nightclub in Gangnam was accused of assaulting a male customer last November. The case pulled Burning Sun into a major police investigation, which revealed alleged drug trafficking, sexual assault and violence towards female customers. It was alleged that Burning Sun staff once drugged female customers so that VIP customers could rape them. Police investigations into the allegations are ongoing.
“Through this scandal, I got to know the details on how nightclubs objectify women,” said Byun Ji-hyun, an Ewha student from College of Liberal Arts who was at the IWD march. “I believe that this parade in response to the scandal gave a chance for women to speak up about the sexual assault that they have experienced in nightclubs. With that, the truth is finally revealed.”
Similar activities came to light at other nightclubs in Korea, as women began to speak up about sexual violence and use of date rape drugs elsewhere. With this scandal as the focus of attention, the Burning Warning feminist parade marched past Gangnam clubs including a club called Arena. The march stopped at Burning Sun and the official rally began as speakers including the Green Party representative Shin Ji-ye came up to give statements on sexual violence towards women in clubs.
“We [women] just want to live happily and live as normal human beings,” said Shin Ji-ye, the head of the Green Party in her speech at the march. “Women are humans too! Women have the right not to be sexually assaulted, women have the rights to be happy!”
Other than the large feminist parade, several more events were held in Seoul to celebrate IWD such as the 35th Women’s Day Convention hosted by Korean Women’s Associations United (KWAU) at Gwanghwamun Plaza, a flea market at Mapo-gu, and an exhibition and ceremony at Gwanak Office building opened by Gwanak District Government.
The history of IWD dates back to 1909 when the event was originally called “National Woman’s Day,” first organized by the Socialist Party of America. In 1975, the United Nations adopted this day under its current name to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.
Korea celebrated its first IWD in 1920 and has hosted annual rallies and events to celebrate and support women ever since, apart from during the Japanese rule from 1948 to 1984.
After the country’s liberation in 1985, the celebration of IWD in Korea started again with rallies, “carnivals, ceremonies, parades, and festivals organized by KWAU.
Today, many non-profit organizations promoting women’s welfare and rights have been hosting various events to celebrate this day as well as to tackle issues on gender inequality annually.
Burning Sun scandal sparks further investigation
Further investigations on the Burning Sun scandal has revealed that a male employee, also known as MD (merchandiser), secretly filmed sex videos and photos of female customers in Burning Sun and shared it with other employees through a group chat. Currently, the alleged employee is under investigation for illegally filming and spreading sex videos.
It was found that drug use was common among club employees, not only in Burning Sun but other clubs in Gangnam as well. Drugs such as GHB (Gamma-hydroxybutyrate), also referred to as “date rape drug”, is known to cause unconsciousness, nausea and hallucination.
Amid new allegations on Burning Sun, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency began to question officers from Gangnam Police Station as it was claimed that the club had corrupt relationships with the police. This scandal brought previous incidents in all clubs into light including an assault case from more than a year ago in club Arena. There are still many unsolved mysteries revolving the Burning Sun nightclub as investigations continue.