The Rise of Korean Women’s Status
From July 1, 2015, the Republic of Korean government implemented the Framework Act on Gender Equality. Its underlying principle is “to achieve a de facto gender-equal society by rectifying and eliminating gender-discriminatory mind-sets and practices.” Its purpose is to “to realize gender equality in all areas such as politics, economy, society, and culture.” Accordingly, all citizens are entitled to “the right to receive gender-equal treatment in all domains including family,” while the state agencies of all levels are obliged to “prepare legal and institutional systems necessary for the realization of gender equality and to secure financial resources for that.”
Prior to that law, the government established the Framework Act on Women’s Development in order to launch gender equality in Korean society. Women who were long discriminated against due to their gender have begun to demand equal rights and equal opportunity in workplaces. Furthermore, pregnancy rights have been introduced to protect woman from being dismissed or refused of a promotion due to her pregnancy. Legal and organisational frameworks to protect victims of domestic violence and single mothers have been installed. The mass media also has played a significant role in promoting gender equality.
According to a survey by the Korean Women’s Development Institute (2015), 51.3% of women are employed while 74.05% of men are employed. The ratio of female workers to male workers is gradually improving. In terms of wage, a female worker earns 67.0% of what a male worker earns on average. This is 1.1% improvement from the previous yea. On average, women worked 10.9 hours fewer than men on weekly basis. The employment level of women was higher than that of men among young people (42.5% for women, 38.9% for men). However, women occupied only 11.1% of managerial posts in private companies and only 4.5% of high-profile government posts. Considering the fact that 44.6% of civil servants are women, we may expect that these figures will improve in the near future.
In last 30 years, Korean women’s status has been greatly improved. Before then, women were expected to follow what was called Sam-jongjido (‘three subordination of women to their male family members’), which demanded a woman to obey her father when she is a maiden, obey her husband once she is married, and obey her son once her husband dies. According to a family law now abandoned, a woman who could not bear a son could be returned to her father after all her husband died and daughters were married. This meant that without giving birth to a son, a woman was not accepted into her husband’s family.
Much has changed today. Korean women as independent beings are no longer bound to traditional gender norms and family laws but can actively pursue their own values and goals in life. Women's status at home has also greatly improved, as they have become more proactive in making household decisions.
Yet, there is still room for improvement. The glass-ceiling that prevents women from climbing up to executive posts still exists today. It is reported that only 2.4% of the executive positions of the top-10 Korean corporations are occupied by women. Even in the so-called ‘pink-collared’ field of education, only 37% of principals and vice-principals are women.
Both the public and private sectors are now working closely together to further raise women’s status and to ultimately establish a gender-equal society in Korea.