"Justice of Redistribution and Recognition" to Close the Gender Gap

- Women's Labor Policies Which We Can Practice Right Now

※ On Feb. 23, 2017, a forum titled "Let Us Overcome Misogyny and Remodel Women's Work and Life" was held in the National Assembly of South Korea. It was jointly held by Korean Women Workers Association and Korean Women's Trade Union, along with six members of the National Assembly (Insoon Nam, Chairman at Gender Equality and Family Committee / Mihyuk Kwon and Okjoo Song, Democratic Party of Korea / Samhwa Kim and Yonghyeon Shin, People's Party / Jeongmi Lee, Justice Party). Through the five articles on OhmyNews, an online news website in South Korea, we Korean Women Workers Association will report on this forum. In this article, we will cover the presentation by Jiyeun Chang (Research Fellow at Korea Labor Institute) titled "The Direction and Issues of Women's Labor Policy: From the Perspective of Equalitarianism." 

   In South Korea, on the news of South Korea's worst gender wage gap among the OECD countries, many reply on the internet, "it is no wonder as women's job is much easier to do than men's job." Disrespect and harassment of the women is rampant, and successful women often become the target of jealousy and hatred. Although South Korean government claims to tackle low birthrate problem with work­life balance policy, it turns a blind eye to South Korean men's patriarchal way of lives which they rigidly keep and just suggests the policies promising to give material incentives to the women. 

   To account for all these problems, Dr. Jiyeun Chang suggests 'gender equality' as a keyword, and starts her presentation with a diagnosis that South Korean society cannot be called as an egalitarian society. South Korean women's monthly average wage reaches only 62% of South Korean men's. For this huge gap, some explain that it is 'rational market's choice' which rationally assesses men's and women's work and rewards them based on the assessment. However, such explanation is groundless unless proving that women in South Korea are especially inferior to men compared to those in the other OECD nations. It is also problematic that regardless of their capability South Korean women are given fewer job opportunities than men, and once luckily employed, they are often unfairly rewarded for their work. In South Korea, working women are always suffering from lack of time and given unfavorable reviews for their performance no matter how hard they work at the company. This is because many women are burdened with the duties of caring their family members, and such burdens are hardly decreased even when they are working for wages.

▲Dr. Jiyeun Chang during her presentation

   As the main factor for South Korea's huge gender wage gap, Dr. Jiyeun Chang points out the problem of 'gender discrimination' at the labor market and 'women's burden of care work'. Therefore, she suggests, for the policies for gender equality, we need to first discuss 'what kinds of' equality our policies should be based on. We need theory, not only to persuade the public fighting with social prejudice and discrimination, but also to carry out policies as a means for social change. 

A philosophy to Close the Gender Gap: Justice of Redistribution and Recognition

   According to Dr. Jiyeun Chang, it is strategically useful to make the women treated equally with the men through 'prohibition on gender discrimination', but it has limitations as it cannot change the structural factors such as difference in environment and initial resources each individual is given. Even when we recognize these limitations and make both men and women start at the same line by narrowing down the gender gap especially in their education level, Dr. Chang points out, we cannot solve all the problems women are now facing. To relieve gender inequality, for some occasions women could be treated equally with men while for the other occasions they could be differently based on their uniqueness. As a theoretical framework to realize this ideal, Dr. Chang suggests 'redistribution' and 'recognition', the two dimensions of justice. This is because, she insists, 'gender' is the prototype of a problem which Nancy Fraser called 'the dilemmas of redistribution­recognition.'

   In order to relieve injustice of redistribution, we need to call for the abolition of the economic system which helps keep certain group's vested interests, based on the emphasis on the 'sameness.' To relieve injustice of recognition, we need to call for the different treatment of the women based on the affirmation of gender uniqueness. In this context, recognition should be treated as a problem of 'status', not that of 'identity.' This is because what needs to be recognized is not the identity of certain group, but the status of each group member (as an equal partner in social interaction). Within this theoretical framework, Dr. Chang suggests, it is possible to call for both the equal redistribution of resources and the gender­specific rights, without claiming that women's identity should be given special values. 

   When taking advantage of these two dimensions of justice, 'redistribution' and 'recognition' as a theoretical framework, we can more easily solve the problems in the practice of social policies. First, with this framework, it becomes possible to criticize the situations in which social policies such as tax system or social insurance programs make difficult for the women to escape from their subordinate position in a family or to equally participate in social activities by regarding 'family' as the 'unit' of the policy. As it is generally egalitarians' ideal to make equal as much as possible each social member's economic resources or well-being of life, it is problematic that social policies for this ideal give a penalty to the high­income women's earnings or lead many women to participate in part time labor.

   In addition, Dr. Chang says, a theoretical framework which emphasizes the recognition of gender status can be used as a right guide to help both genders equally participate in the work life balance policies. For instance, when child­care leave is seen from the perspective which emphasizes the recognition of women's identity, it can lead to calling for a guarantee of women's child­care leave as much as possible. However, from the perspective that 'recognition' is needed for both genders to treat each other as an equal partner, rather than asking child­care leave as gender specific rights, it is seen better to design policies to facilitate men's participation in child care. 

▲Specialists and activists from a variety of fields are participating in the forum as discussants.

Women's Labor Policies Which We Can Practice Right Now

   With this justice of 'redistribution' and 'recognition' as a philosophical basis, Dr. Jiyeun Chang suggests five policies for women's employment which can be carried out right now. First, she suggests a system for workers' right to claim the temporary reduction of their working hours. Instead of part time labor with low income and unstable employment, she suggests a system in which workers can choose their work type between full­time and part­time when needed. She sees this system will help to better workers' work life balance and to increase women's employment at the same time.

   Second, she suggests to expand the role of the counseling office for equal employment so that the office can carry out diverse activities including prevention of employment discrimination, beyond just supporting the employment discrimination cases though counseling. She also suggests to appoint the labor monitoring officials for equal employment so that they can work with their professional and continuous administrative power for equal employment. Third, for more effective Affirmative Action, she suggests a wage disclosure system. By relating this system to public enterprises' management assessment and private companies' public supply, we can lead companies to actively participate in the wage disclosure system. 

   Fourth, Dr. Chang suggests to expand the beneficiaries of the childbirth leave to all. For this, it is needed to have the finances for the childbirth leave wages from public health insurance, so that all women who gave a child birth could be the beneficiaries of the childbirth leave. Last, she suggests to expand partner's childbirth leave and to increase men's use of child care leave in order to relieve the division of gender roles. More specifically, we can gradually increase the length of partner's childbirth leave from two to four weeks, and relate partner's wages during childcare leave to the length of leave. For instance, we can increase income replacement rate for a short period of leave while decreasing it for a longer period. In addition, as the other policies to practically support equal employment, she suggests increase of minimum wage and living wages, decrease of non­regular workers, reduction of working hours, and reinforcement of employment safety net.

   Based on discussions in this forum and many women workers' lives and wishes, we Korean Women Workers Association made a list of the women's labor agendas for the upcoming 19th presidential election. We suggest six directions and 20 agendas to change women's labor policy which has been nothing but the policy to utilize women's labor, into the one for gender equality.

   After this presidential election, South Korean society should be a different one. In our new society, respect for workers and gender equality must be upheld as the norm at work.

Posted by KWWA