Women’s Day soured by drop in equality rankings

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Women’s Day soured by drop in equality rankings


A purple pinwheel symbolizes women’s empowerment among Korean feminists. [JoongAng Ilbo]

As women around the globe celebrated International Women’s Day on Sunday, women in Korea had much food for thought.

Korea has fallen four places to 68th out of 108 countries surveyed by the United Nations Development Program, in a report released Monday. The measure, which evaluates three dimensions of empowerment - political representation, economic participation and earned income - shows that despite advances, women struggle for equality in Korea.


“There are a number of misleading media reports about the ‘Gold Miss’ and ‘Alpha Girls,’ referring to single women in Korea with higher social status and better financial resources,” said Kim Kyeong-hee, a professor of gender sociology at Chung-Ang University. “Many Korean women still face apparent discrimination at workplaces. One figure that backs this is that 70 percent of women working are irregular workers.”
Kim said that the advent of a new administrative government with a lesser focus on women’s employment, coupled with the global economic crisis, has also made the situation worse for women in the workplace.

Speaking on International Women’s Day, which falls on March 8 every year, the chief of Korean Women’s Association United also highlighted problems related to work.

“Discrimination against female workers is rampant at workplaces, but the government isn’t doing much,” said Nam Yun In-sun.

Participants at the festivities on Sunday, which included an official ceremony and parade along Cheonggye Stream, central Seoul, and debates throughout the day at the National Assembly Memorial Hall in Yeouido, western Seoul, said the annual event, themed “Women and Men United to End Violence against Women and Girls” this year, should be more than just a one-day movement.

“March is women’s month,” said Oh Han Suk-hee, a women’s studies expert and women’s rights advocate.

International Women’s Day traces its roots back to March 8, 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and suffrage.

As the event reaches its 101st anniversary, Korea can look back on some encouraging advancements. In 1995, the government enacted the Framework Act on Women’s Development that urges various measures for enhancing women’s rights.


In 2001, the Ministry of Gender Equality was established, and last year, Korea abolished the hojuje, the patriarchal family registration system.

In addition, according to the gender ministry, the percentage of successful female applicants for government posts rose to 42 percent in 2004 from 23 percent a decade ago. The percentage of female lawmakers more than quadrupled to 13 percent in 2004 from 3 percent in 1996. And women in professional and technical fields more than doubled to 8.5 percent in 2003 from 4.2 in 1995.

And Korea was ranked second in terms of the number of respondents who said they had witnessed advancement in women’s issues in their lifetime, according to a survey by the World Public Opinion in 2008.

But Nam Yun stresses the struggle for women’s empowerment is ongoing. “[W]e women will try to change the world in our workplaces, communities as well as cyberspace.”

By Kim Hyung-eun Staff Reporter [hkim@joongang.co.kr]
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