Why South Korean women are becoming morticians

*EDITORS PLEASE NOTE THIS EDIT CONTAINS SOME GRAPHIC IMAGES*

"South Korea used to consider death as a taboo in the past and had a negative perception on whether women could handle such work, but the perception has been changing."

Back in the 2000s only a third of Lee Jong-woo’s embalming students were women.

Now 60% of her classroom is female.

The reason?

There’s a growing demand in conservative South Korea for women’s bodies to be handled by other women.

30-year-old Park Bo-ram is a funeral director in Seoul.

"Most deaths in young people are suicides, many of them are women, and the families of the bereaved, especially if it was the suicide of a woman, feel more comfortable if female funeral directors handle the body."

Student Park Se-jung - who volunteered to lie in a casket for her classmates to practice on her -said she would only want a female mortician to handle her body after her death.

"I sure wouldn't want them (male undertakers) to touch, wash and dress my naked body even if I were dead. I am determined I should be the one bidding those women a proper farewell."

While women continue to make strides in once male-dominated work, there is a lingering resistance against women doing the job.

21-year-old Shin Hwa-jin plans to work at a funeral home after graduation but understands that not everyone is comfortable with the idea.

"One of the most shocking things I heard from the alumni is what one of them heard from her mother-in-law who said: 'How dare you think of cooking my meals with those hands that touched a dead body?’ That was so shocking."

South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the OECD.

In 2019, there were 24.6 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants compared to OECD average of 11.3.

That, coupled with the fact there’s a growing concern surrounding suicide in women in their late teens and 20s, means request for female funeral directors are likely to rise further.

Video Transcript

LEE JONG-WOO: [SPEAKING KOREAN]

INTERPRETER: South Korea used to consider death as a taboo in the past and had a negative perception on whether women could handle such work, but the perception has been changing.

- Back in the 2000s, only a third of Lee Jong-woo's embalming students were women. Now, 60% of his classroom is female. The reason, there's a growing demand in conservative South Korea for women's bodies to be handled by other women.

30-year-old Park Bo-ram is a funeral director in Seoul.

PARK BO-RAM: [SPEAKING KOREAN]

INTERPRETER: Most deaths in young people are suicides. Many of them are women, and the families of the bereaved, especially if it was the suicide of a woman, feel more comfortable if female funeral director handle the body.

- Student Park Se-jung, who volunteered to lie in a casket for her classmates to practice on her, said she would only want a female mortician to handle her body after her death.

PARK SE-JUNG: [SPEAKING KOREAN]

INTERPRETER: I sure wouldn't want male undertakers to touch, wash, and dress my naked body, even if I were dead. I am determined I should be the one bidding those women a proper farewell.

- While women continue to make strides in once male-dominated work, there is a lingering resistance against women doing the job. 21-year-old Shin Hwa-jin plans to work at a funeral home after graduation but understands that not everyone is comfortable with the idea.

SHIN HWA-JIN: [SPEAKING KOREAN]

INTERPRETER: One of the most shocking things I heard from the alumni is what one of them heard from her mother-in-law. She said, "How dare you think of cooking my meals with those hands that touched a dead body?" That was so shocking.

- South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the OECD. In 2019, there were 24.6 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants compared to an OECD average of 11.3. That, coupled with the fact there is a growing concern surrounding suicide in women in their late teens and 20s, means requests for female funeral directors are likely to rise further.