The situation for women in Korea (SEP2000)
kwwa  2002-10-28 14:21:11, 조회 : 413

The Situation for Women in Korea

                              Prepared by Rhie, Chol-Soon, Maria
                          Korean Women Workers Associations United

  The status of women in Korea falls far behind the extent of economic development which has been achieved.   The demands of economic efficiency which have fully exploited the division of labour based on the societal notion of sexual roles (men work, and women look after the family), particularly those of an industry-dominated, male-dominated society, as stubborn barriers against the social advancement of women.  On the one hand, industry, with the support of the government's policies of economic growth, modernization, and emphasis on exports achieved very rapid growth.  On the other hand this growth was accompanied not only by oppression and discrimination against women, but also by the destruction of the environment, the restriction of civil rights, and the exploitation of workers and farmers alike.  Women, especially, were the primary victims of the development dictatorship.  First exploited as a form of cheap labor, then as the first targets of lay-offs during the period of industrial structural adjustment, women have born much of the costs of development.  The underside of Korea's economic development has been that women have been bound by the ideology of patriarchy, so that  they have been relegated to the role of looking after their working husbands and raising a new generation of workers.  Also, the female labor force has been utilized as an industrial labour reserve to be hired and fired  simply according to the  adjustments of the supply and demand of labour following fluctuations in the economy.   Similarly, in order to keep that female labour force under the joint control of the state and industrial sectors, the notions of patriarchy have constantly been reinforced.  Based on these notions, Korean women in all sectors of society have been subjected to sexual discrimination, stripped of their political rights, and struck by sexual violence both in and outside of the family situation.  In conclusion, the status of Korean women has not been elevated, but rather degraded, as a result of the push for economic development.

The Problem of poverty among low-income earners

  As a result of Korea's economic development, Korean women were able to break out of the traditional cycle of poverty.  Now, however, because the labour force of women is acknowledged only in terms of supplementary household income in Korea society, it is still very difficult for women to become economically self-sufficient.  Most women either marry and depend on their husbands for financial support, or work after marriage to help maintain the household budget together with their husbands.  But widows, divorced women left by their husbands, those whose husbands have lost their ability to work for long periods of time, and single women are faced with inevitable poverty.  Also, women who leave their husbands are not entitled to espousal support, and thus face the same dire circumstances. As of 1990, women who headed households numbered 1,106,002, representing 10% of all households.  Of these, those who receive some form of public assistance (a monthly allowance for living costs for a family of four is 757,000 won, or roughly US$950); that is, families headed by women living in a state of absolute poverty numbered 33,766 in 1993.  These women live day in and day out, barely able to eke out an existence working as live-in or visiting housekeepers, or doing other odd jobs.

  Though the government provides financial assistance for the children's education and independent living of these women in order to alleviate the financial burdens of low-income, women-headed households, these are only temporary solutions, and more substantial measures which strike at the root of the problems are demanded.  In other words, the government should provide a basis for the families' independence and self-sufficiency.  The following should be addressed:  1) Recipients of the governmental assistance  are allotted a maximum monthly income of 757,000 won to cover the cost of living for a family of four, an amount which  is so low that it cannot realistically cover the costs of even the most meager existence in Korea today.  Thus, the maximum income amount must be increased. 2) As for the social welfare facilities in the form of public housing, the facilities' capacity is insufficient, the facilities themselves are outdated, the living space of each family is cramped, and there are no support measures to help the families become self-sufficient once they leave the facilities.  These various problems must be addressed. 3) As part of the larger social support net work, informal support networks (family, or neighbor's social organizations) must also be activated.

Female Farmers' Status and Role

Women farmers do both agricultural productive work like male farmers and reproductive work (such as childbirth, rearing of children) like ordinary housekeepers.  Customarily female farmers do double duties, household affairs and productive work.  They also have duties as inhabitants in farm villages.  These duties are never easy.
It is difficult to distinguish farm work from household affairs, because their working places are not divided and female farmers do the mixed double duties at the same time.  As their working hours become longer, their reproductive work is hindered.  On the one hand, this factor heightens the percentage of female farmers' participation in economical activities.  On the other hand, it lessens their labor productivity or heightens their percentage share of farm work.

Women farmers' Social Position

  Changes of female farmers' functions in farm work have rapidly altered the way that female farmers are recognised.  But female farmers still remain as auxiliary farmers rather than as the subject of farm work.  They are still regarded as housekeepers of farm houses and not as professional producers. Therefore their social position does not match their functions as producers.

The problem of poverty among women farmworkers

After the Uruguay Round of GATT negotiations, the market for agricultural products was thrown completely open, and the impoverishment of the farming community is now becoming a more and more serious problem.  As healthy males leave rural communities and move to urban centers because they have already given up on farming as a source of income, it would be no exaggeration to claim that Korea's agriculture has been sustained by women farmworkers.  The forms of female farmers' work and participation in agricultural labor are divided into self-work, exchange of work and employment work.   Women farmworkers comprise just over one-half (51.7%) of the total farming community population and comprise more than half(53%) of the total farming labour force.  Thus, these women are responsible for a large part of the farming household's economy.  However, these women farmworkers are not receiving due credit for fulfilling such an important role, and instead, they are labelled as mere supplementary production labour.  Women farmworkers are being alienated from the means of production (e.g, the land, the use of farming tools, etc.), as well as from the management of farming (e.g., the farming schedules, the selection of crops).  As the women farmworkers overwork themselves in these  conditions, they are troubled by various farming-related illnesses, and due to the absence or insufficiency of childcare or other social welfare facilities, they are also afflicted by poverty and other suffering.

Therefore, in order to solve the problem of poverty among women farmworkers, the government must acknowledge that they are an important part of the agricultural sector, and their status and power must be elevated accordingly so  as to provide the basis for increasing their incomes.  Furthermore, in order to  improve their overall welfare, the government must execute a policy so that women farmworkers can live by the basic human standards to which they are entitled.

Problems related to the employment of women in Korea

  Beginning in the 1960s when Korea started to industrialize, with manufacturing at the center of the export-led growth, the level of women's participation underwent considerable growth. In 1964, the percentage of women's participation in the economy was 36.4%, in 1985, it was 40.6%, and in 1994 47.9%.  During the last thirty years, Korea has witnessed a 10.9% increase in this rate.  The young Korean women workers who left the farms for the cities at the start of Korea's industrialization, were the stronghold of Korea's economic development, working long hours for low pay.
Two times, once during the late 1970s and once during the late 1980s, women were the first workers to be laid off during the period of industrial structural adjustment programs, and many women workers were caught in a state of unemployment. Korean women workers were used as cheap dispensable servants of the economy; all the profit was extracted from their labor when they were needed, and when their labor was no longer needed, they were nothing more than once-used objects to be discarded.  Now, as Korean women workers have started becoming aware of their rights, they are striving to overcome the obstacles of low pay, long hours, inhuman working conditions, and job insecurity so that they can one day be guaranteed the rights to lifelong equality in all aspects of employment.

Situation of Women's Employment

Here, we try to look at job stability with emphasis on the status of women on the job, the difference in the participation of women workers between larger companies and smaller companies, the wage gap between male and women workers, and the structure of women workers' participation.
The percentage of woman workers occupying permanent posts in the enterprises with more than ten employees decreased 9%, from 38% in 1981 to 29% in 1994.  In particular, woman workers of manufacturing posts in the larger companies decreased significantly.  The restructuring of industries is mainly responsible for such a prominent decrease.  In addition only  5.8% of women workers work in companies with more than three hundred employees while 62.7% of women workers work in the enterprises with less than four employees.  This is very significant because workers in the work place with less than four employees are not protected by the labor standards act or by the other social security systems such as the minimal wage act, social pension, health care system, and employment insurance system. Of the distribution of women workers among jobs, women's participation in professional/technical or administration/management is very small with a mere 9.6%, while the majority of women workers are concentrated in labor intensive industries with 33.4% in manufacturing, 17.5% in sales, and 14.4% in clerical work.

* Unemployment

  Since 1986, the structural adjustment programs which the government has been undertaking especially since the late 1980s when the Korea labor conflicts were at their height, have become increasingly serious.  Amidst conditions in which neither the well-balanced development of Korean industry, nor the guarantee of workers' basic living standards are likely, the Korean structural adjustment programs are being carried out to meet the one-sided interests of domestic monopolistic capitalism and the demands of advanced capitalistic countries. Declining industries(textiles, clothing, shoes) are relocated abroad, while growing industries (steel, petrochemicals, electricity, electronics, automobiles, shipbuilding, machinery) are given many incentives to develop. Frontier industries (mobile communications, fiber optics, robotics, precision chemistry) are going to be pursued aggressively. Those who have suffered the most in the name of these interests are women workers.  This is due to the fact that women were mostly employed in the light industries, where problems of unemployment and dismissal have been rampant.  Unemployment trends are taking form as capital is withdrawn or transferred from foreign-related industries in Korea, investment in declining industries is relocated abroad, small and medium-sized industries lacking economic clout shut down, and companies fail to make their payments, with the result that women suffer mass group dismissals.  The following statistics portray the seriousness of these mass group dismissals.

* In 1992 as a result of the suspension of operations of shut-downs of many companies employing over 50 workers, mostly women, about 76,000 workers have become unemployed ( a 33.7% increase over the previous year's figures).

* From 1989to 1991, due to the suspensions of operations or shut-downs of shoe  factories in Pusan city which employed mostly women, about 20,000 workers have become unemployed.

* In the case of the Seoul Export Corporation, from 1987 to 1990, 21.1% of the employees were dismissed, and in the Masan Free Export Zone, from 1987 to 1992, 47% of the employees were dismissed.

  These workers who were dismissed received no training to obtain other employment or any other support to guarantee their livelihood.  The women workers who were unemployed were pushed into the service industries or to working as housekeepers.   The number of women who have been put out of work has steadily been on the rise, and as of 1993, had reached 178,000 women.

* Irregular employment increasing for women workers.

Labor market flexibility, which has gained popularity since the 1990's is adapted by the government as a labour policy and by enterprises as a business policy.  The labour market flexibility policy has played a significant role in systematically removing women from the labor market of regular workers. Consequently, part time and dispatch workers are mainly women.
Recently, changing employment configurations, with the growth of part-time, provisional, service related and contingent jobs, have weakened women's importance so that, on the whole, women's occupational position has been worsening. In reality, such irregular employment discriminates against women workers because they are not covered by the conditions of equality as in regular employment such as equivalent work hours and equivalent work load.(Irregular employment offers 60% of the wages of regular employment, and does not cover entitlement to various holidays and vacations as well as the welfare benefits of regular employment). Furthermore, in the face of the threat of dismissals, they are not free to join labor unions.

* Part-time Employment

Among part-time workers, women comprise 64.9% of the total compared to 45.9% in 1990.  Although the index of the Department of labor designates part-time employment as working 30.8 hours or less a week, if an hourly wage worker in Korea were to work the identical hours of a person in regular employment.   However, part-time labor is limited in choice of jobs and in enchancing work skill even though employment stability and work condition equivalent to that of regular workers are provided for part-time workers.   Despite the fact that these irregular workers do the same work as regular workers, they are discriminated against in terms of wages, days off, promotions and reinstatement.

* Contingent (Dispatch) Employment

Presently, with the exception of workers in harbors and docks, law enforcement, janitorial and service fields, contingent employment is illegal under existing laws. Nevertheless, the law is disregarded and since there is no monitoring of these illegal service jobs, we can identify the existence of 300,000 workers in 3,000 service enterprises in 1995.( according to estimates by the Department of labor, there were 1,363 sites with 27,072 workers in 1991)

GENDER Discrimination in job recruitment, assignment, training and promotion.

As a result of gender division and discrimination in the labor market, women are mostly employed in light industries in low-skilled and low-wage occupations.  In 1992, women who worked as high ranking officials, specialists or technicians comprised a mere 9.8% of all working women.

Even though the Gender Equality in Employment Act went into effect in 1988, it has been widely disregarded and the problem of gender discrimination in the workplace is as grave as ever.  At the time of job recruitment, men and women are hired in separate occupational categories, and there is assignment of personnel into positions distinguished by gender, with certain restrictions based on physical appearances.

At the time of stationing within the firm, given identical educational backgrounds and qualifications, women are assigned to simple, assistant positions while men are assigned to central job positions.  Further opportunities for education and training sponsored or subsidized by the employer are more limited for women workers, and there is also gender discrimination in the kinds of education and training offered.
Opportunities for promotion are almost completely not given to women, and women are restricted from promotion by initial assignment in a prescribed position, and, in the case of actual promotion, the terms of the promotion are applied differently for men and  women.

* Wage discrimination on the basis of gender

Wage discrimination on the basis of gender is slowly starting to decrease, but in 1994, the income disparity between men and women was still at 58.6%( women's average monthly income was 550,615 won while men's average income was 938,982 won).  However, in the manufacturing industries, women's earnings are slightly below the average and the wage disparity between women and men is at 55.6%).
This is due to the fact that, for the most part, women's rate of employment is related to wage discrimination so that women receive lower wages than men. Also, Women's wages are much lower than men's due to further wage disparities based on differences in type of industry, occupational category, level of worker's education and firm size.   According to the 1989 report, "research on gender-based wage disparities"' produced by the Korean Women's Institute, 62.2% of wage disparities between men and women can be attributed to gender discrimination.

* Discrimination in Education and Promotion

   There are many vocational training programs for male workers, otherwise etiquette education programs for females. Besides there are different  disciplinary goals set by gender in those programs.  Further women have few opportunities to be examined for  promotion to a managerial post and they are required to work longer service terms to gain promotion.  In particular, female production workers have no opportunity for promotion to a managerial post.

* Discrimination in retirement

   In the case of telephone operators working for Korea Telecom, they should retire at the age of 53.  However in other jobs they retire at the age of 58.  

* New forms of gender discrimination and indirect discrimination

In the case of banks, after the women clerk system was abolished, management introduced a new personnel system. It comprises different job attainment courses - one for simple, repetitive, ordinary clerical jobs and one for complex planning and management job attainment.  They intend to legalize the differentiation by gender and the level of education in the company and to strengthen labor intensity by competition among workers.

* Maternity Protection

  A primary condition for expanding women's chances in employment and for preventing the discontinuity of women's professional careers is to relieve women of their dual burdens of maternal responsibility and a professional career.  Under the tradition of segregated occupations based on gender, women who are excluded from the labor market due to childbirth, parenting, and housework, either experience discontinuity in their career or become disengaged from economic activities.  Paid leave for parenting with a reemployment guarantee and nursery systems are important prerequisites for encouraging women's participation in economic activities; to prevent the discontinuity of a women's professional career due to pregnancy, giving birth, and parenting; and to enhance the quality of the women labor force.

Current laws fall greatly short of ILO standards, for example; maternity leave covers only 60 days, pregnant women and nursing mothers are asked to work night shifts, and in the case of twins or the like, there is no provision for the extension of the maternity leave period.   In regard to maternity leave, it is only a small portion of women in manufacturing, a portion of those in office work and professional women workers who are able to avail themselves of this.  The reason is that most companies do not give paid leave, and give no guarantee of a job at the end of the leave period and because there is such a scarcity of young infants childcare facilities.  

Alternative measures for job security

  Though issues such as the lower pay and blocked employment opportunities of women have long been issues which have been presented as needing solutions, there has been little effective solutions developed yet. In order to achieve globalization and the strengthening of economic power which the government is pursuing, various measures must be taken at the same time in order to increase industrial technical development and to inculcate a strong work ethic in the workers.    In particular, employment opportunities free of discrimination still have yet to be made widely available for women.  In order to increase the motivation to work in working women, it is crucial that the government reform the laws and strengthen their administration of reforms so that equal working conditions become a widespread reality.  

Furthermore, married women must be given the opportunity to display their abilities to society, and single women must also be given the opportunity to feel a sense of duty about their jobs, which can be achieved by the government and industries drafting a supportive policy concerning household labor and childcare.   Therefore, the government must reform the labor Standards Law and Equal Employment Act to provide legal regulations concerning marriage and resignation, to prohibit discrimination in promotion, forced resignation, and sexual harassment in the workplace.  Also, employment practices which discriminate on the basis of physical appearance(e.g., height, weight, facial features) while recruiting must also be throughly eradicated through the legislation of regulations.
  Also, maternity leave after childbirth must be increased to 90 days (60 days leave now in Korea), the principle of equal pay for equal work must be actualized, joint responsibility of men and women for childcare facilities must be made widespread.  In addition the increase of irregular work substantially lowers women's motivation to work in the long run in direct proportion to the knowledge of how much profit their industries are actually making.  This drop in motivation in turn counteracts the economic competitiveness and progress achieved in the manufacturing industries.  Excepting unavoidable cases involving special duties, the increase of regular labor should be accomplished through legal regulations, and protective measures must be taken immediately for those who are presently working as irregular labor.   The most important of all, to the aims of strengthening economic power and steps towards globalization, is the increasing of educational opportunities for women so that they can receive school education and employment education without regard to their type of occupation.  Education on sexual equality should be made compulsory.  Job training must be made compulsorily available for women who have become unemployed due to automation of their work or structural adjustments.  Also, the government should introduce a job-training quota system to provide paid job training to women who are already in the workforce.

Day Care Center

  Presently in 1995 there are one million and twenty thousand children eligible for day care centers and 26% of them are using day care centers.  Of these day care centers, 86% of them are private (including corporate bodies) and these private centers house 76% of all children.

If the main reason for women's discontinuity of their profession and avoidance of employment lies in the burden of parenting and house work, providing various day care systems in the work place should be considered.  When the day care system is examined, consideration should be given to how to meet the demand of families where both parents have a day-time job as well as the potential demand of families that could participate in economic activities once the day care centers are provided.   The social responsibility of enterprises for raising children should be recognised and relevant laws should be legislated. Besides, child care after school hours also needs to be expanded to cover middle and high schools and the cost for the school meal system should be provided by the state.

Status of Sexual Violence and Family Violence

1) As the statistics which rank Korea as third in the world in terms of the level of sexual violence indicate, women cannot have peace of mind at any time, much less walk alone at night.  According to rape statistics, 20 women out of 100,000 have been victims of rape.   When considering the fact that less than 2% of all rapes are ever reported, however, it is clear that the true extent of the problem remains concealed.

2) In the case of family violence, according to the 1989 Korean Gallup poll, 57.5% of all husbands surveyed admitted to having hit their wives at some time or another.  In Korean society, spousal abuse is a common and recurrent practice.  Also, because the notion that children are the property of , or merely subordinates to, their parents runs deep in our society, the problems of corporal punishment and other cruelty are also severe.  According to the report on the Korean Convention to Protect the Child in 1987, 97% of 1,245 children aged 11-12 years had experienced one or more incidents of corporal punishment, and 46% were hit at least once a month, and 18% were hit at  least once a week.

Religion and Sexism

Han, Kuk-Yom a feminist theologian, sees the problem and the reality of the  son-oriented ideology in Korea.  The root of this ideology comes from the idea of the predominance of men over women. After the ending of a period of maternal society, the social production system changed to a paternal society, and the male oriented ideology became popular.  The male-oriented ideology is not only deeply rooted in general Korean society, but also, in religion.  All religions have their basic principle in liberalizing and recovering the humanity of all oppressed human beings from injustice and inequality in the world. However they have lost their original intention and have become an ideological excuse to sustain male oriented patriarchal ideology.
Religions in Korea today generally are more conservative and sexist than that which can be seen in general Korean society.     For example, when women had actively participated in the movement to revise the Domestic Relations Law in Korea, the Confucian leaders were up against the movement in the name of tradition and absolute ethic. The confucius ideology is the central ideology in forming male-centered family system.  
The three biggest religions (Christianity, Buddhism and Confucianism) are all practised in Korea. Even though these religions emphasize on the equality between men and women, in reality they promote the idea of predominance of men over women and, hence, the idea of giving sons more importance than daughters.  Confucianism reinforces the ethic that a wife should follow her husband and the doctrine of three values to obey from the idea of predominance of men over women in Yin and Yang theory. Buddhism reinforces the idea of male superiority through the idea that women cannot be a Buddhist - only male body can be a Buddhist - therefore the only way a woman can be a Buddhist is through changing her physical body to man form.  Based on this thought the status of female monks is inferior than male monks. Christianity reinforces the patriarchal order in the name of God's order. In fact Christianity improve the status of women significantly in earlier days in Korea. However, it now sustains and continues the sexist order in the church.  The influence of religions were very strong under the name of truth.  The model woman is viewed through her role as a good wife and a good mother, not as an autonomous human being.  The reason we are questioning the patriarchal culture of religion is because it becomes a part of culture and distorts what should be women's role in the society.  

Women in Politics

  As the percentage of women members of the National Assembly, who can participate in the legislative process was less than 1% before 1996, the problems affecting women were not accurately reflected in governmental policy.  
  In the 15th general election in 1996,  women's representation in legislative bodies increased to 3%, which amounts to 9 out of a total 299 representatives in the National Assembly.  Compared to the 3 representatives in the 14th Assembly, this number represents significant progress.  Just in terms of women's political participation, the election of April 11, 1996 was a great success.  More than anything else, the fact that two new women lawmakers succeeded in making their way into the Assembly from local electorates is of great significance since there have been no such cases since the 12th Assembly.
Posted by KWWA