Tag Archive | "gender"

Does Seoul Listen to Women on Women’s Issues?

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • The South Korean government advanced new legislation that would allow abortions until the 14th week of pregnancy.
  • Constitutional Court ruled in 2019 that an outright ban on abortion is unconstitutional.
  • However, the proposed revision falls short of calls by women’s rights activists to completely abolish the current anti-abortion laws.

Implications: The backlash from women’s rights advocates suggests that the government failed to sufficiently engage civic stakeholders when developing public policy. The move to revise existing laws against abortion faced significant pushback from conservative organizations. Nonetheless, the vocal rebuke of the government’s partial repeal of the anti-choice law by advocates of women’s rights – including those within the ruling Democratic Party – indicates that civic groups were not properly consulted.

Context: The 2019 ruling by the Constitutional Court challenged a 1953 statute that subjected women and the attending physician to a maximum of two years imprisonment for aborting a fetus. The Court’s dissent led to a public petition that called for the complete abolition of the anti-abortion law. Underscoring the public backing for pro-choice legislation, the petition raised over 230,000 signatures. This push is also backed by the fact that fewer abortions are being performed in South Korea. Between 2005 and 2017, pregnancy termination fell sharply from 342,400 to 168,700.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Sophie Joo, Sonia Kim, and Chris Lee.

Picture from the flickr account of GiulioBig

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Promoting Gender Diversity in Academia

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • The Ministry of Education announced that national universities must increase the proportion of women professors to 25 percent by 2030.
  • As part of this plan, the government specified annual goals to reduce gender gaps in professional positions.
  • According to a Diversity Report published by Korea University, 16 percent of its professors were female. In comparison, the percentage of female faculty members at several American universities was revealed to be significantly higher at over 50 percent.

Implications: While the share of female faculty in South Korean academia continues to lag, the government’s new benchmark for hiring more women professors over the next decade may affect social norms around gender diversity. Through these new goals, the Moon administration seeks to not only increase representation of women in the labor force, but also shift general attitudes toward gender equality. As women still face gender bias in higher education, a push to extend more professional positions to females can help overturn pervasive stereotypes.

Context: As featured in a previous issue of Korea View, the South Korean government’s push to enforce greater gender parity have not only led to progressive gender quotas but also notable shifts in attitudes. With measures like male parental leave, more men have started to contribute to jobs that were traditionally viewed as suited for women, such as caring for household duties. At the same time, women have made advances in roles conventionally viewed as a male occupation. Yet, despite these changes, South Korea ranked 108 out of 153 on the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Index – an indication that public policies fall short of transforming women’s position in society.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of James Constant and Sonia Kim.

Picture from flickr user Hyunwoo Sun

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Partisan Divide On Legacy of Wartime Sexual Slavery

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • A former “comfort woman” alleged that an NGO dedicated to advocating for victims of sexual slavery misappropriated funds. The former head of the organization is now a National Assembly delegate for the Democratic Party.
  • Democratic Party leader Lee Hae-chan was careful to not publicly criticize the NGO while many conservative-leaning media outlets called for a probe.
  • During a meeting with the leadership of the opposition United Future Party on May 28, President Moon Jae-in reiterated that the 2015 agreement between Korea and Japan on wartime sexual slavery was one-sided.

Implications: A partisan divide has appeared in discussions involving the legacy of sexual slavery during World War II, which increasingly colors the issue as a domestic political issue as well as a challenge in Korea-Japan relations. This is most evident in media coverage of the controversy. According to Mediatoday, conservative-leaning Chosun Ilbo published 22 articles about the allegations of misappropriation, which is approximately 2~3 times more than other media outlets. By comparison, progressive-leaning Hankyoreh published seven articles. Moreover, some of the articles presented a defense of the NGO.

Context: In 2015, the conservative Park Geun-hye administration made an agreement with Japan on compensation for the victims of military sexual slavery during World War II. In return, the Korean government promised not to litigate the issue again. The conservative media characterized the agreement as meaningful. However, then-Democratic Party leader Moon Jae-in called the agreement invalid because the National Assembly did not ratify it. In addition, he accused the Park Geun-hye government of not reflecting the victims’ views. According to a 2016 opinion poll, 56% of respondents believed that the Park administration’s agreement with the Japanese government was wrong.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Gordon Henning, Soojin Hwang, Hyungim Jang, and Ingyeong Park.

Picture from flickr user Lindsey Turner

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DPRK Menstrual Health Product Consumer Report

By Andray Abrahamian

Which North Korean brands of sanitary pads are the best? Where can I buy them? What other products are available for next time I’m traveling around the North Korean countryside? How expensive are they?

These are questions you may not have asked yourself. But for North Korean women these are crucial questions that can define opportunities to earn money, to travel, and to feel productive and well.

Coreana Connect has spent several months researching North Korean period products and has turned the findings into a consumer report, with an English version and both a Northern and Southern edition, also.

Feminine hygiene products in North Korea are best described as available but not accessible. The majority of North Korean women use homemade reusable cloth pads, most typically made of gauze or old cloth. Still, some can afford modern products and will spend the money, particularly if they have to be out and about. Various North Korean companies compete for these consumers, who make choices based on price and quality. No tampons, cups or reusable period panties are made in North Korea. Manufactured period products include only one category: pads.

Coreana Connect collected a handful of the most common made-in-DPRK brands, as well as a couple Chinese imported brands. We sent them to a professional paper and textile laboratory to test for two key characteristics: Absorption Before Leakage (ABL) and Multiple Acquisition Time (MAT). The first is a measure of how much liquid a pad can hold before leaking; the latter measures how quickly liquid is absorbed and dried.

We then distributed samples of one of the menstrual hygiene products to a panel of young women, who completed a survey and rated the products in a real-world setting.

Overall, we found that DPRK-produced pads are most comparable to thin or day-use pads sold in western markets. The quality was, frankly, higher than we expected; the variety of brands available was also surprising. The greatest shortcoming of DPRK-produced pads appears to be insufficient adhesive on the back of the pad, leading the pad to shift out of position, causing staining.

We’ll leave the rest of the exciting conclusions for when you download the consumer report for yourself. But this project has made us think about menstruation in North Korea as connected to a number of important issues on which North Korea and the international community could potentially collaborate.

As everywhere, North Korean girls and women need effective and affordable menstrual health products. This is even more true in a resource-scarce society where women are primary earners for many households. Managing periods means having the freedom to travel and work.

Pads are virtually the only manufactured menstrual health product available in the DPRK, but are costly: most brands are roughly equivalent to half a kilogram of rice. They are unfortunately considered a luxury. Projects that lower product costs would be a boon to these women, improving a number of basic human rights.

There is social stigma around periods, but part of this is related to lack of information and of educational resources on the issue. Getting pamphlets into schools, hospitals and workplaces could be hugely beneficial. Coreana Connect was only able to find published materials on periods targeting medical professionals. Education could also include information about alternative, money-saving, sustainable products.

This is still a learning process for us at Coreana Connect, and we’re happy to take advice and input as we consider the best practices and strategies for improving the lives of women and girls in the DPRK.

Andray Abrahamian is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Korea Economic Institute and Visiting Scholar at George Mason University Korea and Senior Adjunct Fellow at Pacific Forum. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photos from Coreana Connect and Marcelo Druck’s photostream on flickr Creative Comomons.

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Steady Improvements in Gender Equality

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • The share of parental leave taken by fathers increased from 1.4 percent in 2009 to 21.2 percent in 2019.
  • According to a survey, 43.2 percent of respondents said they saw a reduction in gender discrimination during last year’s Chuseok holiday; however, 39.3 percent of respondents also saw no changes.
  • Female participation rate in the South Korea military rose from 5.5 percent to 6.8 percent last year. The South Korean government aims to increase the figure to 8.8 percent by 2022.
  • In November, the South Korean military promoted Kang Sun-young to a two-star general, the first woman to hold this rank.
  • The National Assembly passed a new law requiring large companies to have at least one woman on its board of directors.

Implications: Without waiting for voluntary changes in societal attitudes towards gender equality, the South Korean government is spearheading a series of progressive laws that are delivering modest but important advances. Developments in the past ten years suggest that measures such as male parental leave have had an impact on traditional concepts around gender roles. More men are participating in what had been traditionally viewed as a woman’s job, including food preparations during holidays and childcare. Simultaneously, women are also taking on jobs that were conventionally seen as a male occupation. Female participation rate in the military is rising and may experience stronger growth when more female officers rise to positions of authority and demonstrate that the military is a viable career for women.

Context: Although there are promising signs that gender equality is improving, South Korea still has a long way to go. The gender wage gap in South Korea is one of the highest among the OECD countries. Some young Korean women refuse to marry and have children due to the discrimination women face in a traditional family. Furthermore, non-traditional gender issues are still largely neglected. Report of a 1.3% increase in female participation in the military followed the discharging of a trans-woman from the military for transitioning during her service.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Gordon Henning, Soojin Hwang, Hyungim Jang, and Ingyeong Park.

Picture from flickr user damopabe

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Ending Gender Inequality for Economic Recovery

By Liberty Smith

It is no secret that societal expectations of Korean women are exceedingly burdensome. Approximately 50% of Korean women in their 20’s have had plastic surgery, citing job candidacy and marriage potential as equally strong motivations. Women bear the brunt of unpaid household chores and child-rearing, dedicating more than three times the hours contributed by their domestic partners on average. These regressive social conventions and biases carry negative consequences for female participation in the economy.

With Korean women making 36.7% less than men for similar work in 2016, the gender wage gap for similar work in Korea is the widest of East Asian countries and significantly larger than that of the United States (18.1%) and Mexico (16.5%). Furthermore, rates of female employment in professional, technical, and managerial positions are the lowest of the world’s advanced economies despite near equal labor force participation by all males and females. As Korean policymakers look to address the economic slowdown, these imbalances should be treated as principal areas of focus.

Female Labor Participation: Korea’s long-term growth outlook is encumbered by its shrinking workforce. This trend is a natural feature of a post-industrial economy, but accelerated in the Korean context by a decline in birthrates linked to working women who opt to stay in the workforce rather than have children. Women that do start a family are often pressured to quit or forgo using maternity leave. New mothers returning from leave frequently find their original positions taken and must settle for work with less pay and fewer benefits. The 40% gap in workforce participation between men and women in their 30’s illustrates the career disruption women face at this critical juncture. The graphic below is a country comparison showing the low turnout for women of birthing age in the Korean labor force.

Unequal Household and Labor Division: Women cite a culture of discrimination that does not accommodate the needs of mothers to explain why some women choose to leave the workforce. When only one-third of women return to their jobs after a mandated maternity leave it prompts employers to have a hiring aversion. When employers do not hire a proportional representation of women nor promote them, it encourages women to trade a career for family. Clearly, the core cause for this trend is not an inherent preference for childrearing over a career, but a paradoxical social phenomenon that makes a woman’s career worth less than a man’s. The underlying cause of this is that women are expected to do the vast majority of unpaid housework at home. Women in 2009 did an average of 138 minutes of routine housework daily while their male counterparts did 21. Joongang Sunday analyzed over 150,000 “Time Use Surveys” from 2018 collected by Statistics Korea that revealed the society’s stringent maternal standards come from both outside and inside the family. And according to research by the International Social Survey Programme in 2016 on gender roles, “Korea had the most negative attitudes towards working mothers, believing that a child and the family suffer when a mother works full-time.” This is despite broad support for more equal division of household labor. In a 2014 survey, 64% of male employees said they would share the burden of child rearing when it became socially and financially acceptable. Recent statistics support this finding. As of last year, the Moon administration has expanded paternal leave by increasing its monthly allowance and time limitations. This has resulted in record breaking numbers for men opting to use parental leave. However, there is still further room for growth.

Unequal Share of Corporate Leadership: In a nation ranked last in gender wage equality by the OECD, employers continually use appearance as a critical assessment. Being female puts one in the labor market equivalent of a beauty pageant. It virtually eliminates access to management or technical positions, never mind the executive level. Women make up a staggeringly low percentage of executives at just 2.7% and a dismal 17% represent women in the National Assembly as of 2017 (U.N. Human Development Reports). In 2013, the Segye Financial Times found that female CEOs in the listed 1,787 KOSPI companies made up a mere 0.73% of Korean CEOs. Korean women’s low status in global rankings is quite alarming given the nation’s prestigious status as a world economic power. The Human Development Index – a global measure for quality of life that examines GDP per capita, life spans, and education – lists low performing states like Tajikistan, Uganda, South Africa, Indonesia, and Bolivia as places that foster closer equality of the sexes than the highly ranked Republic of Korea. Thus proving occupational diversity and equal compensation for women is not constricted by geographical location, religion, regime type, or wealth. Having a heterogeneous boardroom is proven to be the best environment for producing creative solutions imperative for propelling growth and competitiveness. The OECD has forecasted that equal participation and opportunity between genders in Korea would add an average of 0.9% per year in GDP growth.

The laws in place such as Sexual Equality Employment Act or the Act on Equal Employment and Reconciliation of Work and Family are largely ceremonial and in effect do little to curb the perpetual discrimination against women. Maternity and paternity leave are both legally protected freedoms that employers and management actively discourage by not informing workers of benefits, withholding promotions from women who take maternity leave or giving them demotions when they return to work, and using verbal threats of job insecurity. The fact that it is exceedingly rare for male employees to use paternity leave speaks to the strength of the norms at play.

Japan – a country notorious for similar gender parity issues – is openly facing them head-on. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, dubiously proclaims that amelioration begins with classes for women and setting lenient quotas for firms; a policy initiative he calls “womenomics.” Its success is underwhelming. 1.5 million women have since been added to the workforce but the labor is largely low-skilled and low-wage.  Policies that fail to address and de-incentivize the prevailing culture directly do little more than patronize working women. This socially designed absence of urgency prolongs this trend, even at dire economic straits.

Failed social movements in places like Japan should be a teaching moment. It is not enough to diagnose or codify a systemic issue. A government that pushes for a change in society through policy is unlikely to succeed without first garnering substantial public support. Equally important as policy itself, support brings about the internalization of an idea that marries society to new norms. The extinguishment of discrimination should not center on the subjects of it, but its sources. Pushing for support starts with educating the right people in the right context. Providing subsidies for childcare, high exposure of advocacy and spokespeople, mandating transparency in compensation, corporate bias and intervention training are a few places to start. For women to feel empowered to enter the market as careerists, three conditions commonly found in egalitarian states must be cultivated in Korea: job security after maternal leave, acceptance of burden-sharing for child-rearing, and equal opportunity at top leadership/management levels. A successful challenge to gender inequity will usher in the use of the entire talent pool and a chance at emerging from stagflation.

Liberty Smith is currently an Intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Dickson Phua’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Gender Discrimination in Job Interviews Contributes to Workforce Inequality

By Jenna Gibson

What interests you about this job? What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses? What are your measurements?

One of these questions would raise red flags if asked by a potential employer here in the United States, but it is still relatively common in Korea. One woman who recently applied for a job as a nursery school teacher said she was asked about her family’s economic background, her weight, and whether she planned to continue working after getting married. She is not alone – according to the Korea Herald, in 2014 there were 630 reported cases in which job postings asked for “good-looking” candidates. And surely many more of these types of incidents went unreported.

Technically, these types of questions and other discriminatory practices are illegal in Korea. But they are still so commonplace that the Ministry of Employment and Labor announced on November 3 that they would be cracking down on violations.

According to Labor Ministry official Nah Young-don, who is in charge of youth and women policy, “The corporate culture that violates job seekers’ privacy by asking about marital status and appearance is a problem, but what’s more worrisome is that many companies are not aware of the illegality of such practice.” To help remedy this, the Ministry is sending information on discrimination rules to thousands of major companies. Specific guidelines include: do not specify that a post is for men or women only without a specific reason, do not ask personal questions during the job interview, and do not include requirements related to appearance in job postings.

Violating discrimination laws does carry a 5 million won ($4,400) penalty, but according to the Korea Herald many companies have merely been issued warnings in the past. The Ministry says it will now start handing out fines more broadly.

Of course it’s important to crack down on blatantly discriminatory questions and requirements. However, the Korean government has to go a lot farther if it is going to solve the issue of gender inequality in the workforce.

One major issue that remains is the use of photos on resumes. What good is it to ban interview questions about appearance when the employer will still be able to view the applicant before they even step into the room? The use of photos on resumes is discouraged by the Labor Ministry, which released a standardized resume format in 2007 that excluded categories like height, weight and family background. However, a bill that would specifically ban the inclusion of photos in job applications has been lingering in the National Assembly for three years with no sign of movement.

Korea scored the lowest in the OECD on The Economist’s recent “glass-ceiling index,” which measures female labor-force participation, wage gap, and women in leadership positions. The United States has room to grow as well – at 58.2 points, America is below the OECD average of 60.3 on this index.

During her presidential campaign in 2012, President Park Geun-hye emphasized the importance of addressing the issues women face in the workforce, saying, “More participation of women in the economy is a core engine for the nation’s growth.” And her administration has taken some steps to ameliorate the situation, strengthening the coordinating role of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and setting a target ratio for female managers across the public sector.  Despite these steps, major obstacles remain for Korean women in the workplace. Tackling the discrimination they face before even being offered a job will not solve all these issues, but it certainly is a good place to start.

Jenna Gibson is the Associate Director for Communication Technology and Programs at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. KEI intern Juni Kim contributed to the infographic in this post.

Photo from Republic of Korea’s photostream on Flickr Creative Commons.

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About The Peninsula

The Peninsula blog is a project of the Korea Economic Institute. It is designed to provide a wide ranging forum for discussion of the foreign policy, economic, and social issues that impact the Korean peninsula. The views expressed on The Peninsula are those of the authors alone, and should not be taken to represent the views of either the editors or the Korea Economic Institute. For questions, comments, or to submit a post to The Peninsula, please contact us at ts@keia.org.