[Viewpoint]Gender insensitivity

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[Viewpoint]Gender insensitivity

The Journal of the American Medical Association carried an interesting article called “Sex Differences ... in Response to Low-Dose Aspirin Therapy” in its March 22-29, 2006 issue.
The research was carried out by a group of medical scientists at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and a researcher at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
The research revealed that aspirin can prevent stroke in women, but has no effect on men. On the other hand, aspirin has the effect of preventing myocardial infarction in men, but has no effect on women. The study also said women had an adverse reaction to medicine at a rate 1.5 times higher than men.
People generally think there is no need to discern gender differences in the fields of science, technology and medical research. However Western European countries have considered men and women to be different since the 1980s. Marian Riccardo, a professor at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, said, while visiting Seoul two years ago, that many patients have received improper medical treatment because doctors mistakenly treated men and women the same.
It is also been said that there have been many cases, during the development of a medicine, in which women have experienced an adverse reaction and even died from a new medicine developed according to male standards.
Advanced countries started to evaluate and analyze the effect of gender differences in the fields of science, technology and medical research during the late 1980s.
A few days ago, the Ministry of Planning and Budget announced it would introduce a “gender sensitive budget” starting in the fiscal year 2010. The term “gender sensitive” is not familiar to us and its Korean pronunciation sounds similar to a question.
Even President Roh Moo-hyun became the talk of the town by asking the minister of gender equality and family, “What is a ‘gender sensitive budget’ ” at a cabinet meeting in the early days of his government.
The ministry said that when it drafts a budget plan, it reflects the differences and special character of men and women in the draft so the budget reflects gender equalities.
One good example is public toilets. Considering that women need about two times longer at public toilets, the ministry will allocate a larger budget to install more toilets in women’s bathrooms.
However, a gender sensitive budget does not always favor women. In Canada, the government allocated a separate budget to diagnose diabetes in men, hoping to increase the rate of early discovery. The rate of diabetes is comparatively higher among men than women, because women get checked medically for symptoms of the disease while giving birth, and men are not regularly checked.
When we analyze government policies in terms of gender differences, however, we find various ways to give equal benefits to the majority of the people in various fields.
A female relative of mine whom I met a few months ago at a faming village complained that most farming tools are big and heavy for her because they are made according to the specifications of grown men. Nowadays, about half of the farming workforce is women. It is urgent, therefore, to produce small and light farming tools fit for them. There is no need to mention gender equality in terms of this issue.
Besides, there are many other things that need a gender sensitive budget, including vocational training for women, free medical examinations for cancer and government subsidies for farming, to name a few.
The gender sensitive budget was adopted as an action plan at the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995. Since then, it has been implemented by some 60 countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa and the Philippines. Nowadays, it is so often used among people in women’s movement that one could be treated as ignorant for not knowing about it. The Nation Assembly enacted a gender sensitive budget by passing a revised National Budget Bill in September of last year.
At the moment, the government’s preparations to implement a gender sensitive budget are moving very slow. If the government intends to implement it in the budget for the fiscal year 2010, as was announced by the Ministry of Planning and Budget, it should present its first budget report in the first half of 2009. But the ministry only recently designated a department to oversee it.
In order to evaluate the effects of a policy according to sex differences, separate statistics must be used for men and women, but the major statistics don’t separate the numbers that way. According to a survey conducted by Shim Sang-jong, a Democratic Labor Party lawmaker, less then 0.1 percent civil servants had attended the education course for a gender sensitive budget as of the end of last year. However good the new policy may be, it will not be implemented properly if people don’t know about it. The related government branches should make the necessary preparations in a hurry.

*The writer is an editorial writer and a staff writer on women’s affairs at the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Kyung-ran
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