[OUTLOOK]Still searching for gender balanceCelebrating International Women’s Day on March 8, I would like to give a second thought to gender equality in Korean society. Gender equality here has made great progress in terms of policy ―we have passed or revised the Equal Employment Opportunity Law, the Special Law on Sexual Violence, the Domestic Violence Prevention Act, the Maternity Protection Act, the Sex Trade and Trafficking Prevention Act and the Child Care Act, while the patriarchal family registry system has been abolished. Nevertheless, the habitual practices of gender discrimination remain in the workplace and at home. The social concepts and patriarchal ideologies that have taken root in daily life cannot be changed easily. Frustratingly, the formality of the legal system is not very helpful in correcting actual discrimination.
Moreover, globalization and the aging of Korean society complicate the situation and create more troubles for Korean women. The increase of female participation in economic activity is slowing, and the employment of irregular female workers is rising. Divorce is increasing, while women are getting married later and having fewer children. These phenomena illustrate the reality of Korean women today. The low birth rate is telling evidence that actual gender equality has not been established despite the achievements in policies for women.
We desperately need to adjust the legal system and pursue gender equality in a way that brings substantial results to create actual equality. It is important to resolve the inequality between men and women in terms of work and power and accomplish actual equality.
I would like to advocate the resolution of gender polarization based on the concept of “dynamic balance.”
Finding a “dynamic balance” in the relationship between men and women entails the following. First, the conventional division of labor between genders needs to be corrected. Women who had hoped to work but were not given an opportunity should get that chance, and women should participate in areas that have been dominated by men.
Moreover, we need to find a balance in areas in which men are dominant, set standards and have power in this patriarchal society. Female participation needs to grow ― we should think of equality from the perspective of women. The mainstream has to change, and a female-oriented reshuffling of society must happen. While society is centered on industrial labor today, we need to recognize the value of labor in childcare and domestic work. Society should be reformed so that men and women share duties at home and gender roles are restructured.
Some might worry that society might stagnate if we put too much emphasis on finding a balance between genders and have all women participate in productive labor. However, the result will be just the opposite. Increasing female participation in labor would make a great contribution to economic growth, especially with our aging society and low birth rate, which will exacerbate the labor shortage.
Moreover, as women participate in labor, men will not only feel less burdened financially but also rediscover the pleasures of being close to their family, which they had long neglected. The change doesn’t mean that men wouldn’t have to work. They will continue to do so, but while sharing the burden of childcare and domestic work. As men and women find a balance and equality together, the dynamic balance will contribute to national development, and benefit both men and women.
Therefore, gender equality from the perspective of dynamic balance is a win-win strategy to restructure gender roles and accommodate our overall social development.
In order to accomplish substantial gender equality, we need to change our consciousness and roles along with systematic changes. It is very important to change the awareness and roles of men as well as those of women because women are rapidly changing, but the change of the men is very slow.
* The writer is the dean of the College of Social Sciences at Hanyang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Shim Young-hee