Michael Ross, political science professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, argues that the status of women in the Middle East is especially low because of the resource curse. The oil-exporting countries can afford to use their money to buy cheap imports, consequently hurting labor-intensive manufacturing industries such as apparel and shoes. These industries traditionally offer jobs to women. Women can demand rights when they are allowed to participate in a society, but in the Middle East they are completely blocked from such opportunities. Meanwhile, the oil boom generates jobs for men by boosting the construction industry, further solidifying the male-centered system.
The latest global financial crisis has led to the reverse phenomenon. More men have lost jobs because of the financial crisis than women have. In the United States, 11 million jobs have disappeared since 2007, and two-thirds of them had been occupied by men.
Several theories exist on why this economic recession has become a “mancession” in many countries. One idea is that the financial and construction sectors are directly affected by the crisis while the health care and education sectors, which traditionally employ more women, are not sensitive to the market.
Another theory is that the average wage for men is higher than that for women, so higher-paid workers are always first to go. According to a recent OECD report, all member countries but one saw a higher increase in the unemployment of men than women after the financial crisis.
Many forecast that this trend will bring considerable social changes. With more women playing the role of breadwinner in families, one of the predictions is that housework and child rearing will be shared more equally between partners. Others predict that as women’s economic power increases, the gender wage gap will narrow.
What about Korea? The only exception mentioned in the OECD report is none other than Korea. More Korean women have lost their jobs than Korean men have. One of the major reasons for this is that four out of 10 employed women here are temporary workers while just 2.4 out of 10 men are. The income gap between men and women in Korea is the largest among OECD member countries.
As we celebrate the giant leaps that Korean society and economy have made over the last 50 years, let us remember that there is still much work to be done. After all that women have contributed to Korea, it is embarrassing to think that they still face such obstacles as workers.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Shin Ye-ri