Mobilizing Against Molka: Exploring South Korea’s Largest-Ever Women-Led Protest

The streets of Seoul, South Korea, which boasts a population of over 9 million, are understandably crowded every day—but last month, a revolutionary crowd gathered in place of the typical stream of commuters.

More than 30,000 women are estimated to have come together on June 9, marking the largest women-led protest in the country’s history, to push back against molka—hidden spy-cam pornography that is plaguing the nation.

Jung Hawon, a Seoul correspondent for AFP who has been reporting on molka since 2015, described the protest as both angry and cheerful. Protestors carried banners, chanted and welcomed one another with the term jairoo—Korean-language slang meaning “hi, sisters.”

“The sight of nearly 30,000 women shouting and chanting in collective anger at the heart of the capital city was overwhelming to watch,” she told Ms. “South Korea is known to be good at staging colorful mass protests, but the latest anti-spy cam protest was the largest women-only protest ever staged in the country, and served as a tremendous, unprecedented show of strength by South Korea’s new generation of young, vocal, tech-savvy feminists.”

The misuse and exploitation of women through spy cams placed in public places—like restrooms, subway escalators and along the streets—is a growing issue in the region. While the government has attempted to curb the problem with various initiatives and campaigns, little to no improvement has been made.

That could be because the problem isn’t just legal, but also deeply connected to societal inequity. According to the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, the Republic of Korea ranked 118 of 144 countries in terms of gender parity. Its parity score was 0.650, with 0.00 being imparity and 1.00 being parity, falling below the global parity average of 0.680. The country earned a score of 0.117 in terms of parity for legislators, senior officials and managers—almost three times less than the global average of 3.20. In fact, the country ranked below the global average in all but one area: healthy life expectancy.

“The country remains deeply conservative and patriarchal despite economic and technological advances,” Jung said. “It constantly ranks at the bottom of the surveys on women’s rights among the OECD club of economically advanced nations—from women’s presence in senior positions to gender pay gap. The culture of objectification women is widespread, and many women are under immense pressure to look and dress flawless and to behave demurely at all times. That Seoul is a world capital of plastic surgery is never a coincidence.”

A backlash against women’s rising independence and fight for equality could also be shaping the fight against spy cams. “There are a lot of men in Korea, especially in the younger generations, who blame women for some of the problems that they face,” Katharine Moon, a gender and women’s rights expert with a focus on South Korea who teaches at Wellesley College, told Broadly. “There’s a sense of rejection by women and also being bested by women in schools and in jobs. In some ways, [this] is an easy way for your average guy to feel like there’s some kind of payback.”

For men, the payback doesn’t cost much. Korea Exposé reported that between 2012 and 2017, out of nearly 20,924 male suspects accused of molka, only 2.6 percent, or around 540, were placed under detention. Add the implicit victim blaming and shaming that comes with reporting such crimes and it becomes easier and easier to see how South Korean culture and policy is failing women—and easier than ever to understand why women are finally pushing back with as much force as possible. The women of South Korea are no longer willing to sit by as their privacy is continuously attacked.

“I think that the latest protest shows that the South Korean women’s frustration and anger that has piled up over the years,” Jung said, “has finally reached a boiling point.”


Hope Lenamon is a former editorial intern at Ms. and a journalism major with a double minor in electronic media and communications and women's and gender studies at Texas Tech University. She enjoys writing, taking mediocre photos and the company of her dog, Miley.