Facing calls for reform, Seoul government plans to address gender inequality

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Facing calls for reform, Seoul government plans to address gender inequality

The Seoul Metropolitan Government vowed Monday to launch two committees to look into the city office’s work environment for women and devise a master plan for eradicating gender inequality and sexual harassment.
The set of “special countermeasures” will be announced no later than September, Seoul officials said in a press briefing.
The municipal government’s announcement came nearly a month after the late Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon committed suicide on July 9, one day after his former female secretary filed a complaint with Seoul police accusing him of sexually harassing her for more than four years since July 2015. She accused him of sending her promiscuous text messages and photos of him in his underwear via the encrypted chatting app Telegram.
One committee, comprising 15 members, including outside experts, will mainly study ways to protect victims of sexual abuse and help them return to their normal lives. The committee will also help to improve Seoul’s overall work environment for women, the city said, and strive to enhance Seoul officials’ gender sensitivity.
The committee will be jointly led by Kim Eun-shil, a professor of women’s studies at Ewha Womans University, who is also a member of the Seoul government’s Gender Equality Committee, and Seo Jung-hyup, Seoul’s acting mayor.
The other committee will comprise some 20 members, the city said, all of whom work for the city government and who are no higher than grade 5 civil servants on the nine-grade system. Grade 1 is the highest. The volunteers will “examine” the work environment of each department and look for ways to solve gender disparities, Seoul said.
Through her lawyer, Park's former secretary has accused about 20 of her colleagues in the Seoul Metropolitan Government of aiding and abetting Park’s sexual advances toward her and ignoring her calls for help when she confided in them about her struggles.
After Park’s suicide, the Seoul government originally planned to launch its own investigative team of outside experts to look into the allegations and asked the secretary’s representatives to join. But they refused the offer, and instead asked the National Human Rights Commission of Korea to conduct a probe.
With that refusal, the city government said it won’t investigate, while the commission said last Thursday it would “comprehensively” probe the sexual harassment allegations.
The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family said in a separate statement earlier on Thursday that after a two-day, on-site inspection of the Seoul city government, Seoul City Hall was found to lack a system to protect and support victims of sexual harassment within its workforce. The ministry called on the municipal government to devise “tailored” education programs on sexual abuse for its high-level officials and to come up with ways to protect victims from “secondary damage” after they come forward with their harassment claims.
BY LEE SUNG-EUN   [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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