South Korea’s traumatic history tells us that there is a need for healing in the country. The poor mental health status of the population, disproportionately poor among women, and the disparity in women’s economic status and political participation, are both connected to its tumultuous and war-torn history.
Quantifying the health and well being of Korean women in relation to the rest of the world, the World Economic Forum‘s Global Gender Gap Report 2012 ranks South Korea number 108 out of 135 countries. The Global Gender Gap Report includes “Four Pillars” of gender equality which are economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. Although Korea has leapt from 117th to 108th in two years, Guatemala, Fiji, and Nepal are the only countries outside Africa and the Middle East that rank lower than South Korea. In some ways, Korea’s economic boom has left most of its women out.
Dr. Anne Hilty discusses the relationship between trauma and recovery and women’s empowerment in a paper she presented at the 7th Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity. Dr. Hilty shared statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) that found “a gender wage gap in South Korea more than twice that of the OECD average, only 8% of women held supervisory roles, 1 female to every 4 male university graduates are hired, less than 5% female corporate executives, and one of the lowest female employment rates of OECD nations in 2011.” South Korea has continually been told by the OECD to address its gender inequity, especially in the economic and political arenas. Dr. Hilty remarks how important gender equity is for social justice, strengthening the workforce, and poverty reduction. When investments are made to improve women’s health and economic opportunity, other societal developments are made easier.
Dr. Hilty mentions that despite Korea’s OECD rank, “there are several recent indicators of progress”. An ideological shift toward “healing” in South Korea is not only noticeable in its marketing trends, but visible in the country’s recognition of gender inequity and its actions taken toward gender equality and mental health.
Dr. Hilty’s paper outlines development strategies taken by South Korea to combat gender inequality.
In 2001, Korea implemented the Support of Female Farmers and Fishers Act “to advance the rights of rural women and improve their quality of life” including affirmative action, expanding leadership roles, and vocational and leadership training.
In 2010, the Gender Equality Index was implemented in the country.
“Dynamic Women 2010” set goals for gender equality in South Korea including “46 measures for improved social environment”. This undertaking has created “81 employment support centers for women, 77 new employment centers, and 90 women’s re-employment centers”. “Dynamic Women Korea 2015” is ongoing.
Last year, Kim Sook, the Korean ambassador to the UN was named president of the executive board for UN Women.
The Jeju Women Governance Forum was additionally founded last year. Its 133 members represent a wide array of professions responsible for conducting research and educational initiatives to inform “gender-sensitive” policy-making on the Island.
More than 30 cities in South Korea have been named “Women Friendly Cities.”
In May of next year the International Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW) will be hosting their 28th International Congress on Jeju Island, South Korea. The president of BPW will be announcing a new program that will influence Korean businesses to sign on to the seven UN Women’s Empowerment Principles.
This year, four South Korean women have earned a ranking on Forbes List of Asia’s 50 Power Businesswomen.
At the same time gender equity advancements have been underway in South Korea, Dr. Hilty has witnessed an increase in Korean individuals seeking mental health treatment for themselves and their children. Additionally, the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare has instituted mandatory mental health check ups that will begin this year.
Although progress is slow moving, the steps Korea has taken in the last decade and the focus on “healing” can be a model for other countries aiming to reduce the gender gap. As initiatives toward gender equity are implemented, secondary effects on quality of life of the population simultaneously occur!