The Korea Herald


Gym draws fire for banning 'ajumma'

By Choi Jeong-yoon

Published : June 11, 2024 - 16:13

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A post uploaded on online discussion platform Blind reads A post uploaded on online discussion platform Blind reads "Ajummas not allowed to enter. Only cultivated and elegant women allowed." (Blind)

In South Korea, the debate has intensified over indoor spaces attempting to bar certain groups from entry, notably sparked by a gym's recent decision to ban older women, creating a "No ajumma zone."

According to a post on Blind, an online discussion platform for verified employees, on Monday, a gym in Incheon hung up a sign on its premises saying: "Ajumma not allowed to enter," with the additional explanation, "Only cultivated and elegant women allowed," below.

Roughly equivalent to madam or ma’am, "ajumma" is a Korean word for informally referring to a married or middle-aged woman among strangers. The term, however, has grown to incorporate derogatory implications over the years, with Koreans being reluctant to use it, especially in public or official situations.

The gym also posted a sign with eight standards for differentiating ajumma from "women" regardless of age or marital status.

The sign said that a person is considered an ajumma under the following conditions: "if one likes free things, regardless of one's age;" "if one gets sworn at everywhere but does not know the reason why;" "if one sits in a seat reserved for pregnant women on public transport;" "if one goes to a cafe with two people and orders just one cup of coffee and asks for a cup to share;" "if one secretly throws food waste into a public bathroom or other toilets;" "if one is frugal with their own money but not with that of others;" and "if one has poor memory and judgment and says the same things over and over again."

The gym owner claimed that he created the "no ajumma zone" because he suffered "great damages" due to such older women.

"Some 'ajumeoni' (the respectful term for older women) brought baskets of laundry to the gym and left the hot water running for an hour or two, which doubled the water bill, and made sexually harassing comments to young female members, telling them they would bear babies well," added the gym owner in the post.

This incident has come to light amid growing concern over public manifestations of intolerance and discrimination in Korean society where "no someone zones" have recently continued to emerge.

Under Article 11 of the Constitution, "there shall be no discrimination in political, economic, social or cultural life on account of sex, religion or social status." The National Human Rights Commission of Korea cited this clause in 2017 in its ruling that "no kids zones" constitute acts of discrimination and are illegal.

Still, the NHRCK lacks the legal authority to enforce its ruling on businesses, and thus its ruling remains only a "recommendation." Therefore, in Korea, it is legally possible for a business owner to restrict some customers under the principle of freedom of contract or the principle of private autonomy.

Alongside Japan, Korea is the only country among OECD member nations lacking a comprehensive law preventing discrimination against groups or individuals based on sex, disability, age, race, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion and political opinions, among others.