Closing the gender gap
In South Korea, women are poised to surpass men in terms of population size. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report this year, South Korea ranked 114 out of 142 countries. Statistics Korea stated that the female population will reach 25.31 million, surpassing that of males at 25.30 million. This indeed is a remarkable change considering that South Korea has had a strong preference for sons.
However, this does not mean that South Korean women fully enjoy the same opportunities as their male peers. Female employment remains around 55 percent, which is much lower than the OECD average of 65 percent. One of the biggest reasons that women quit their jobs is because of pregnancy, and firms avoid employing women because women get pregnant. This is strictly against the government’s stance, but the government is not sanctioning those that disadvantage women.
The low economic participation rate of women will become a more serious issue in the next generation where the female population will grow in size. Sakong Il, a former finance minister, says higher female participation in the labor force is essential to raise the country’s economic growth potential above the current level of 3.5 percent.
To overcome these obstacle and reach its aimed economic growth, the Korean government should set more realistic and enforceable policies; at least in aspects of pregnancy. Korea has a policy of letting women have their maternity leave for three months, but that time is barely used because of pressure from employers. This is very unusual compared to other OECD countries such as Germany, where companies allow women to have maternity leave for 14 weeks and pay 100 percent of their wages. By looking at other OECD countries, Korea needs to learn how to give true freedom for women to take what is provided for them.
It is true that things have become much better for South Korean women. A growing number of them now have high-status jobs such as doctors, lawyers and, of course, Korea is now led by the first female president, Park Geun-hye.
Still, many women face invisible obstacles - so-called glass ceilings - especially regarding their pregnancy. With the advent of women outnumbering men in South Korea, the government must take strong actions to promote the participation of women in the economy not only for the nation’s economic growth but also for the its future.
*Lim Jie-eun Student at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies