[VIEWPOINT]In search of true equalityMore and more women have advanced in society in Korea in the past 20 to 30 years. According to a recent survey, women make up around half of our population and around 50 percent of them are economically active. In other words, half the women in our society have jobs.
The younger generation today generally thinks that equal participation of men and women in society and granting equal status to both genders are natural, and they also understand that gender equality is an essential dynamic for social development. The focus of both the government and civil organizations on women’s issues is higher than ever at the moment. It is also encouraging to see that diverse efforts are being made to support women in socially difficult situations.
Despite such remarkable changes, the reality we have to face is that less than 1.5 percent of all economically active working women earn more than 3 million won ($3,090) a month. In addition, according to press reports, the social status of Korean women is still very low. A comparison of the social and economic status of men and women in 13 countries of Asia and the Pacific, including Korea, Japan, China and Australia, showed that the accomplishment index of Korean women was 65, which was the 12th out of 13 countries, according to a Hong Kong newspaper report on Thursday.
The women’s accomplishment index evaluates four different categories together: the participation rate of women in the labor market, the rate of women in administrative positions, the ratio of higher education between men and women and income level. The closer the index number is to 100, the more equal are the men and women. The average women’s accomplishment index in Asia is 75.7, so Korea is far behind average.
There are women who are having an even harder time in the difficult reality of today. They are the female heads of households, who are responsible for feeding their family members. According to statistics, the number of female heads of households is on the rise, and there are three times more poor families among households headed by women than those headed by men. In most of the cases, the woman becomes the head of the household due to separation from her husband by death or divorce, so she alone has to support her family. Considering that the number of households where a single mother is the head is hard to grasp, even using statistics, the actual number of women-headed households in absolute poverty is likely to be higher than the statistics indicate.
Many of the women bread winners had no experience in regular economic activities until they became the head of the family. For women who do not have any special skills, it is very difficult to go out in society suddenly and take the responsibility of supporting the family. In the recent work environment, where it is extremely difficult to find a job, there is no place for these women to find jobs. Most of the work they perform is simple labor, and because they have the added burdens of caring for children and the household, they have to work in short shifts. Proper care and education for children becomes impossible in such a difficult situation.
I understand that the government is aware of this reality and is aiding such women by providing necessary social support. However, now is the time for our society to change our perception of women’s issues, instead of just providing them with subsidies. This is not a problem limited only to women who are the heads of households. The problem of elevating the social and economic status of women as a whole is one that our society has to accomplish by making it our first priority. The problems of women are not only limited to women anymore.
Putting aside the basic proposition of applying the fundamental right of equality to women, who make up half of our population, the issue is directly linked to the problem of educating the next generation, the most important task of society, and also with maternal protection.
Our society as a whole should recognize the problems of women as the problems of the whole society, and we need the will to establish a system where women are no longer discriminated against in any way.
* The writer is a professor of law at Konkuk University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Choi Yoon-hee