Rethinking gender biasKorea is now in the middle of celebrating the 17th women’s week. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family is sponsoring various activities and events, as well as awarding civilians who have contributed to improving women’s lives and the opportunities available to them. Korean women have seen their social status and standing improve over the years thanks to efforts from the government and public. More women are now working, building careers and becoming successful in the corporate and political arenas. They also occupy more senior positions in legislative and judicial offices. Despite these changes, however, most women still rightfully complain of inequality at work and in society.
According to the 2011 white book on national competitiveness published by the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, Korea ranks 30th among 31 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in terms of gender equality. The income gap between the two sexes is the worst in the OECD. In short, Korean women are treated more unfairly than in any other developed economy. The ministry cited the ranking to emphasize that the gender inequality and poor utilization of women waters down the country’s competitiveness. Our society is particularly harsh on working women.
A recent study shows that working mothers are less happy than those who don’t work. The low fertility rate backs up the survey’s results. The fertility rate in 2010 of 1.23 babies per woman was 184th among 186 countries. This suggests just how hard it is for Korean women to juggle the demands of work and family life. Women who have been raised and educated on an equal footing as men tend to shun marriage and childbirth for fear of losing out at the workplace. The low fertility rate casts a dark cloud over the country’s economic prospects.
In its long-term outlook, the OECD forecast that Korea’s growth potential will drop to around 1 percent in 2030, largely because of a sharp reduction in the size of the economically active population. We need a better social system that encourages women to enter the economic sphere without scaring them away from motherhood. Our future depends on it.