[REPORTER'S DIARY]Women Cheer New Maternity LawThe National Assembly's Environment and Labor Committee voted Tuesday to extend maternity leave from 60 to 90 days. It took six months for the amendment to come to a resolution since the committee's judiciary subcommittee approved it in December.
The reactions of both the Ministry of Gender Equality and the Korea Women's Association United to the passing of the amendment were strikingly similar.
"Finally," they said, "the acceptance of the concept that the expenses of maternity should be shared by society has reached a turning point."
Society sharing the expenses? The statement may at first appear a little overblown, considering that all along the stated aim of the Ministry of Gender Equality and the Korea Women's Association United was simply to have the "term of maternity leave [in the Maternity Protection Act] extended from 60 days to 90 days."
What did they mean by their reaction? How did they interpret the new law as a "turning point"? Why do companies and the government have to be responsible for the expenses when women give birth to babies?
The concept of this kind of sharing will never be understood unless our understanding of women's pregnancy and child-rearing is changed.
"The sharing of the burden acknowledges that women's pregnancy is beyond merely a personal affair and that pregnancy has a societal function of providing human resources for the family, society, companies and country," said Kim Sun-mi, a policy director at Korea Women's Association United.
But more important is the sharing of the financial burdens that arise from providing adequate maternity protection.
Previously, the law provided paid maternity protection including maternity leave and menstrual leave, but the government actually passed the costs on to companies. Many feminist organizations repeatedly argued that the law gave employers an excuse to hesitate over hiring women and encouraged them to discriminate against women.
But the cost of this additional 30 days of maternity leave will not be incurred by companies. The government and employment insurance will split the increase in expenses. This year alone, the government and the employment insurance will pay 15 billion won ($11.5 million) each.
"The amendment that promotes the sharing of the cost of maternity protection is very meaningful. Not only will the parties that benefit directly from the amendment, the companies and the employees, actively participate in the cost sharing, but also the government," said Lee Nam-hoon, a policy official at the Ministry of Gender Equality.
The sharing of the cost by society will show how the spirit of Article 36, Clause 2 of the Constitution － which reads "The country must work to protect maternity" － is applied in reality.
Our tasks for the future are evident. The amendment must be enforced after careful preparation without any snags.
The writer is a cultural news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Eun-ju