No Respect for Pregnant Women On Korea’s Subways

Video from KBS News

Priority seats for pregnant women are just talk, in reality using them is futile.

Money that the government has invested in creating priority seating for pregnant women in subways turns out to not be serving its intended purpose.

People are by and large unaware of what these seats are for, and awareness campaigns are scarce. This causes a problem when trying to utilize these seats, and in reality this means that pregnant women are unable to take advantage of their priority seating. These seats are now becoming simply, seats that must be given up in consideration [to others or the elderly.]

Kim Soo-hyun is a pregnant woman on her way home from work. She is standing inside the subway car right in front of one of these “consideration” seats.

Kim even after sticking a sign on her bag that notifies others of her pregnant status, no one will give up their seat for her.

In an interview, she said that, “I don’t have a lot of energy, because my morning sickness is really bad, and I can’t eat a lot. It’s been very hard for me when I can’t sit down, and I have to stand the whole time [on the subway].”

Priority seating for pregnant women is marked with a sticker, and is located at both ends of the center seats in every car.

Despite this, many people are unaware of them, and there are many people who do not respect the sticker.

Lee Seung-jong from Seoul’s Gangseo-gu told us, “Yeah, I’ve seen the stickers. I remember them.” [We asked if] he knew where those stickers were located, and he answered, “I can’t say for sure.”

Jeong Hyun-kyeong revealed, “I’ve seen the seat given up for office workers who look really tired, but it doesn’t seem to be given up to others that often.”

The problem is how they are used. The sticker demarcating the priority seating is often hidden, and you can’t find them in every single train. Given this situation, only 1 in 3 pregnant women have experienced being given a seat, and annual complaints about the issue are piling up.

Bae Hyo-eun, a pregnant woman commented, “It seems like a meaningless gesture. They stuck the pregnant women’s priority seating sticker on there, but it isn’t really any different than a regular seat.”

Since 2013, approximately 34 million won has been spent on these stickers. This year’s budget includes funds to update the sticker design.

However these seats will remain virtually useless until everyday people begin to understand who they are for, and the system [for priority seating] is improved.

Comments from Naver:


Can’t pregnant women also sit in the seats for the elderly and physically impaired?


First and foremost, I think the elderly need to pay the fare to ride the subway. I mean, do they not have anywhere else to hang out?


The elderly are the problem. If pregnant women sit there, [the old people] give them these looks. tsk tsk tsk


It’s funny that there’s separate seats [for pregnant women] keke Why don’t we combine them with the elderly and physically impaired seating and just call them “priority seating”?


If we just solved the old people problem~


When I was 8 months pregnant a 30-something man gave his seat to me on the subway but ㅠㅠ then an old man who had just gone hiking got angry and complained that the older people are standing while the young people are sitting, so eventually I just stood up. It really surprised me that the younger people were the ones to give up their seats.


Old people ride for free and steal seats all while wearing hiking clothes. If you have enough strength to go hiking, do you really have to steal seats from high school kids who just finished nighttime study sessions, tired college students and office workers? But also you steal the pregnant women’s priority seats. When I say these things, you will ask me if I don’t think I might be old someday, too. But I won’t become a stubborn and stupid old person like you.


Whenever a pregnant woman sits in the elderly and physically impaired seats, an older person will always come by asking why such a young person is sitting there. So even if the woman says she’s pregnant, they get mad at her like how dare this young person go against me.


Those old people on the Gyeongchoon Line or Line 1 going to Cheonan go around wearing hiking clothes in swarms, and it’s infuriating seeing them stealing seats from office workers or students.


Priority seats for the elderly and physically impaired aren’t just for the elderly … [but] only the elderly can sit there, so they had to make different priority seats for pregnant women… This is a waste of funds.


I heard some grandpa scolded a pregnant woman [who was sitting in a priority seat] saying the baby is not his grandchild, kekekeke. Then, he is not my grandpa but I have to let him ride the subway for free with my tax money!


Seats for the physically impaired and elderly are not old people seats.


There are quite a few grandpas who don’t act their age and make a fuss about pregnant women in priority seats. They don’t listen even if the women say they are pregnant.


There really are no words for those old grannies who tell pregnant women to give up their seats.


It’s even harder to get a seat if its the beginning of pregnancy and your belly hasn’t started sticking out yet.. when you start to get bigger, everyone can see [that you’re pregnant] and you can get a seat. I don’t worry about going to sit in the disabled and elderly seats.


Why are they using public funds to update the design [of the seats]? kekekekke It’s pointless.


Once when I was pregnant I sat in the priority seats for elderly and disabled, and then this old man just kept yelling at me. It was hard [to stand] so I sat down and I was so embarrassed… I got up again, and when he saw my huge belly he said he was sorry, but being in the subway with lots of eyes on us, I was worried someone might take a video of what happened and upload it online.


It’s all because old people never ever give up their seats.


It’d be better to just make them [pregnancy]-only [so nobody else can ever sit there], otherwise the old people will never let go of their seats.

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  • 금정산

    I’ve noticed a positive difference in 에티켓 and manners on the subway, compared to five years ago. The videos and advertisements in the subway are working in other regards but in this example people just aren’t aware of or notice the tag attached to the handbag.

    The sticker above the seats are clearly visible, it’s just that there are too many designated pregnancy seating to the number of pregnant women (you notice) on the subway. People are rarely required to vacate the seat and switch-off from checking to see if a pregnant lady aboards.

    In another aspect, Koreans are too sheepish. They don’t talk to each other enough and don’t stand up for themselves (or each other). Just speak a little to anyone sitting down.

    “Excuse me, you may not realise that I’m pregnant – but can I have the seat?”
    “Well… you don’t look pregnant.”
    “Sure, it doesn’t show, but morning sickness is actually quite tiring”.

    I’ll bet most people would stand up promptly. If not, someone nearby would.

    If a lady was to sit at the end of the carriage (designated for elderly, disabled and pregnant) and an elderly person got angry, she should just point to the sign depicting the lady with a bump and explain. If they get abusive, call security. You need to stand up to bullies.

    • elizabeth

      I can’t imagine Koreans having a conversation like the one you outlined. It sounds a little confrontational.

      I would have said, “Excuse me, I am not well because I have morning sickness. Could I have your seat?” but I am not sure if even this is considered rude.

      • 금정산

        I would say that here it depends more on your tone of voice than anything else as to whether you are being rude, confrontational, assertive or polite.

        To not look around or avoid eye contact when you are the priority seat – now that’s rude.

        • elizabeth

          Good point, that too.

  • 금정산

    Remove &ref=A from the link to access the video.

    • elizabeth

      After watching the video, my gut feel is that they should just remove the sticker. People are obviously not looking up from their phones and having the sticker especially for pregnant ladies send a signal to the other groups that they are less important and discriminated against, which is a possible reason for the conflicts between the elderly and pregnant women. I think an elderly is just as entitled to the seat as a pregnant woman.

      One possible solution is to have more priority seats with the understanding that any able-bodied passenger can occupy one but have to give it up if someone else who needs it comes along.

      • 금정산

        I’m not sure if the conflicts between elderly and pregnant women are about being treated as less important. Those conflicts arise in the absence of these sticker designated seats. Some elderly have a false sense of entitlement are are simply territorial bullies want to get their own way.

        I like the idea of more priority seats with the understanding of vacating for someone who needs it. Say, designate a row of seats in the centre of each second carriage. That could work but it would be better backed by further awareness of courtesy and etiquette.

        • elizabeth

          Yes, I agree. The bottom line – courtesy and etiquette.

          I understand that in the Korean culture, the elderly are to be respected according to a hierarchy based on age. So perhaps they don’t see it as bullying.

    • Were you having problems with the link? It worked for me so I didn’t notice. Hopefully nobody else will have the problem now that it’s fixed.

  • ytuque

    And Koreans wonder why the birth rate is so low.

    • asdasdasd

      have some creativity please.

      • that was creative

      • ytuque

        Koreans and creativity go together like hot sauce and ice cream.

        • Dark Night

          mmm…. ice cream & hot sauce…. sounds good

        • Dave Park

          Don’t knock it before you try it. Vanilla ice cream and hot sauce is a pretty wicked combination.

  • MeiDaxia

    My wife, when in the early stages of pregnancy, would rather have stood than sat out of her personal comfort. But when she was into the third trimester, it was more difficult to stand on long journeys. We ran into this problem a couple of times, either when she was very pregnant or carrying our newborn daughter. Usually, I would make some comment to them in Korean and (at least I felt it was) because I was a foreigner, they’d say “Oh! Sorry!” and get up. It wasn’t like they hadn’t looked up and seen my wife standing there for 2-3 stops, they had. It took actually saying something to get a reaction.

    On this, I found elderly far more accommodating than most anyone else. They would jump out of their seats and offer her a seat, without having to say anything.

    Another point: the open spots for wheelchairs and strollers. No telling how many times I had to politely, or more often impolitely, get someone to move to park our stroller.

  • Bryan Cheron

    When my wife was pregnant, she only had people yield their seat to her after about the six month mark, when it was very clear she was pregnant. Prior to that, I had to ask people if she could sit there (she wouldn’t ask herself, not wanting to make a fuss). What’s ironic is that for many women, my wife included, the early stages of pregnancy are the hardest; this means that it was when she needed the seat the most that people would give her dirty looks after I asked people if she could sit there on account of her pregnancy.
    I wouldn’t expect men to know this- that the early stages of pregnancy are often the hardest- but you’d think the old women giving my wife dirty looks would remember and know better!

  • Small twon

    My friend yielded his seat to pregnant lady on subway – he thought he was making his parents proud then said lady became red face and exited subway immediately. We were confused and baffled until kind old lady told us ,stupid men
    ” she’s not pregnant, young man”

    Oh fu** ! We try not to sit on subway after that incident.

  • A Gawd Dang Mongolian

    Sounds complicated. Just another reason to avoid public transport.

    • D.Zoey

      Maybe if you have a car, a license and not a foreigner. The driving conditions in Seoul are very different than what an American is used to, maybe even crazy. Just like any other busy city, where are you gonna drive it if there’s congested traffic and little parking>
      If you’re working on a 1-2 yr contract obviously this can’t work. It also seems Koean college students tell me they can’t afford their own cars. I actually didn’t have any Korean friends who had their own cars in Seoul. But yea , if none of this applies to you I guess you can afford to avoid Public transport.

  • bigmamat

    Is this really such a big deal? I have a novel idea. It’s called courtesy, thoughtfulness, decency. When you see someone struggling be nice lend a hand. Pay it forward. Being considerate is it’s own reward.

  • commander

    It’s not common to see a pregnant woman get on a subway car. And many people still don’t know there are seats reserved for expecting mothers. But from my experiences, when a visibly pregnant woman get in a car, she is often given a seat to sit on by other passengers.

    This article seems like to be not a objective assessment. Another sensational report without any reliable evidence for the argument of widespread disrespect for pregnant women.

    • Please tell where did you see that, because my wife was pregnant twice and she had to suffer many rides standing because nobody cared about her already prominent belly.

      Also, I think young girls are the worst. Older women -who also needed to sit down- were the only ones aoffering a seat. It was really embarrassing most of the times.

      • commander

        That’s too bad for your wife.
        Yeah, old women knew how many troubles a fully pregnant woman has and how much careful she has to be for a healty childbirth.

        Although I can’t pinpoint where I saw seat givings for pregnant women, I have seen multiple times in subway and on buses.

        I hope more pregnant women will be seen sitting on seats offered by well-meaning passengers.

  • elizabeth

    Maybe the passengers are too engrossed in their smartphones too look up and notice.

    As regards who should give up the priority seat, one commenter got it right – just label them as ‘priority seats’ and specify the groups of people they are for e.g. elderly, handicap, pregnant ladies, etc. If need be, the persons in the other seats should volunteer to give theirs up to anyone who appears to need them more.

    • Boo Gong Gong

      There are already labelled seats that specify who should sit there. Have you ever actually been on the subway in Korea??

      • elizabeth

        Yes I have but I had not noticed them. My point is instead of labeling for pregnant ladies only, they could used ‘Priority Seats’ to include others who need them as well so that no one group is discriminated against or feel more entitled, and it is more efficient. If need be, other passengers should just volunteer to give up their seats.

        The stickers don’t seem to work because, as I have mentioned, passengers might have been too engrossed in their smartphones to consciously look out for pregnant women. No harm asking for a seat and I am sure most Koreans would give up their seats for people who need them.

        I am giving a suggestion which is up to you to take up or ignore. Please do not take it personally as an attack.

        • elizabeth

          Correction – I have noticed but not scrutinized the labels. My impression from reading the article and comment is that there are labels for pregnant women.

    • Smith_90125

      Phones are not the reason.

      Koreans are too lazy to get up for the pregnant women because they don’t know them. Courtesy and respect towards strangers is a foreign concept to Koreans – if you don’t know somebody, you can treat them like shit.

  • guest

    I had rude Asian “old” people who are actually /middle-aged/ people rich in wealth and health and bullies overworked poor young people and actual old people (age 80) I can’t wait till these bastards are actually really old and actually frail. Go on, be rude to nurse, gets put in corner.

  • goldengluvsk2

    would a bit of courtesy kill people? why do people need a sign to make them use their common sense? they do that too here but from time to time, you see men giving their seats to women and such but you have to be careful tho… idk about SK but here, im a girl and ive given my seat to elders -even when im sitting on regular seats with tons of books and the priority ones are occupied- and most of them feel insulted lol like, they dont want that priority!

  • Smith_90125

    So Koreans behave exactly the same way now as they did in 2005.

    That’s not really surprising.

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