What We Can Learn from the Strong Women of South Korea: Haenyeo Women

The Haenyeo - Female Divers of South Korea


Photo by David Alan Harvey


The female divers of the Korean island Jeju, demonstrate mental fortitude, physical strength and incredible spirit. The haenyeo, which translates to sea women, dive up to 10 meters below the surface without any breathing equipment, searching for pearls, shellfish, octopi and sea urchins. Many haenyeo continue to dive until they reach their 70s and 80s, gaining vast knowledge of the sea and becoming respected elders in their communities. There are many lessons we can learn from the haenyeo as they approach life full heartedly, create tight communities, and symbolize female strength. 


Develop and Strengthen Mind, Body, and Spirit

By the 17th century, diving on Jeju island was mainly done by women. As men went off to sea on fishing boats or warships, the haenyeo were providing resources for their families and communities. During the 1960s, 60 percent of Jeju’s fishing revenue came from the haenyeo’s earnings. Although the number of female divers have substantially dwindled, the practice of diving still continues in families that have generations of female divers. Girls are taught to swim as they learn to walk and often continue diving into their 70’s and beyond. The ability to provide for their families and contribute significantly to the local economy has empowered Jeju women for centuries.  This work is not easy and diving can often be perilous. The haenyeo go out into frigid waters up to seven hours a day. They risk encountering sea life such as sharks, rough waters and riptides.  Through hours of practice and generations of wisdom, haenyeo are able to navigate these waters. The perseverance and fearlessness of the haenyeo is truly inspiring. 

Build Close Communities

The haenyeo also build close communities of strong females that support one another, share wisdom and respect the older divers. These women are integral members of society and it is inspiring to see them thrive as providers for their families. 

Haenyeo Women

Appreciate and Protect Nature

Haenyeo’s coexistence and appreciation of nature is also heartening. They create guidelines to protect marine life and prevent overharvesting. Before each dive, the women also pray to the goddess of the sea, asking for an abundant catch and safety. We can all learn from the haenyeo’s practices and remember this Earth is not a limitless resource. We cannot expect to only take from the environment without serious consequences.  The haenyeo are incredible women that truly demonstrate female vigor and success. Their approach to supporting one another and sustainable practices are lessons we can all apply to our own lives.

Written by Grace Maeda

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