More Women Untying Apron Strings

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More Women Untying Apron Strings

On May 20, thousands of women will race around the Olympic Park in Jamsil, Seoul. The Housewives' Marathon to Raise Funds for Housewives is led by Yeosong Sinmun (Women's News) - a newspaper established a decade ago provides news on women's issues and reports events from a women's perspective. The marathon aims to collect the funds needed to establish a scholarship fund for housewives in Korea.

The fund will help ajumma, or housewives, who wish to pick up their studies, learn practical skills for employment or simply participate in cultural events to enrich their lives. The ultimate goal is to provide housewives with the chance to rediscover their true identities, which many say are lost in the many years that married women often spend caring for husbands, parents and children.

The marathon is just one of many social events aiming to open doors to older women. Over the past two years, Women's News and advocacy groups for housewives throughout the country have led various social and cultural events to raise funds, such as the Ajumma Singing Contest in 1999 and the Ajumma Big Festival in 2000.

This year, the newspaper is planning to organize an ajumma activity group, which will lead fund-collecting campaigns.

In addition, the Korea Fund for Women established in March an acting committee to run charity bazaars, concerts and campaigns in a drive to raise more than 100 billion won ($75 million). Yoon Hoo-jeong, chief organizer of the fund committee, explained that the fund aims to broaden housewives' horizons in the 21st century by promoting women's advocacy groups in general and supporting victims of domestic violence.

More and more women are leaving their hearths and marching outside. In an attempt to accommodate the growing stature of housewives in Korea, the government created the new Ministry of Gender Equality this year. Minister Han Myung-sook emphasized in her inaugural address that she would "do my best to use housewives efficiently as human resources."

This new, active spirit can also be seen in the many recent campaigns for recognition of gender equality and the increase in divorce cases.

The large participation of housewives in a movement to abolish the "family headship system," the legal recognition of the succession of males as family heads, is one example. Women advocacy groups insist that this law constitutes sexual discrimination, as family members are "rated" by their status in the family, and thus males are automatically given superior status. The groups argue that the system dictates that wives and mothers are rated below husbands and fathers and prevents the formation of equal relations between family members. The system also posits a one-year-old baby boy above his 70-year-old grandmother, and his divorced mother is simply recorded as his custodian.

In October 2000, more than 25,000 housewives throughout the nation signed a petition requesting the government to abolish the male family headship system. This year, a 34-year-old divorcee filed a complaint against her district office, saying it was not fair that her son could not be registered as a member of her family line when she was his official guardian and was bringing him up. The Seoul District Prosecutor's Office considered her complaint on April 5 and requested that the Constitutional Court review the case.

Housewives are also less willing to endure unhappy marriages; they would rather get divorced. According to a report released by the Korea Legal Aid Center in February, the number of women getting divorced has increased drastically over the past 30 years. Divorce cases constituted exactly a third of all domestic lawsuits in the 1970s. That figure inched up to 40 percent in the 1980s and finally soared to 51percent in the 1990s.

In 1990, the number of women who sought advice from the legal aid center on divorce matters was 4.1 times that of men, and by 1999 they outnumbered male visitors 5.9 times.

"The report shows that Korean women are now more active in seeking divorce than in the past. They think it's better to get a divorce and get a life than put up with unhappy marriages," said Park-So-young, an official at the center.

Housewives are also gaining recognition as participants in the economy not only as consumers but also as producers. According to a poll conducted by the Gender Equality Ministry in January, 62 percent of married women and 44 percent of single women said "they would start working at once if positions were available." Experts said the results were significant not merely because they indicated that much more than half all housewives want to work, but also because they suggest married women have an even stronger desire to work than unmarried women.

"As more women are more highly educated in Korea, they consider themselves not only as a member of a family but also as a member of society. They stop limiting their roles to wives or mothers at home, who spend their lives supporting husbands and pushing children so they get to good colleges," said Kim Soo-ja, vice president of Women's News.

Ms. Kim added the government should plan more systematic policies to open doors to women.

"The government must create more positions for women in government agencies," she added.

Ajummas' Bill of Rights (by Women's News)

-Let's find our true identities.

-Let's make some time for ourselves.

-Let's have our own space.

-Let's be financially independent.

-Let's have our own work.


Women's Periodical Is One Leader in the Push to Overthrow Traditional Korean Male Dominance

by Lee Jung-kyu

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