Gender and Korea

It’s so interesting how two different news agencies report the same research findings.

S. Korea’s women’s empowerment ranked among world’s worst (Yonghap News)

GENEVA, Nov. 8 (Yonhap) — South Korean women are among the least empowered in the world, despite high access to education and a long life expectancy, according to a report released Thursday.

The empowerment ranking of South Korean women stood at 97th out of 128 countries, lagging behind other major Asian economies, the Gender Gap Report, published by the The World Economic Forum, said.


Korea Gender Gap Narrows – Slowly (Korea Herald)

The gender gap in Korea is getting narrower, according to a report by a global research institute that was released yesterday.

The Geneva-based World Economic Forum issued its 2007 Global Gender Gap Report, which revealed Korea’s ranking in 97th place among the 128 countries surveyed. The Gender Gap Index assesses countries regarding how well and equally they are dividing their resources and opportunities among males and females.

In terms of a year-on-year ranking, Korea is in 88th place among 115 countries; up four places from a year ago, the data showed, and is good news, as it indicates a sign of slow but steady improvement regarding gender disparities.

Korea’s Gender Gap Index went up to 0.641 this year from 0.616 a year earlier. The WEF measures gender equality on a scale of zero to one, one being the status of equality. The study measured the degree of gender inequality according to the economic, political, educational and health-based criteria, the organization said.

“Korea is still one of the countries with a big gender gap, but it has shown progress in the areas of wage equality and labor force participation,” the WEF explained.

Korea topped all other countries, in terms of life expectancy and enrollment in secondary education, as it had last year. However, it was far behind in other areas such as the sex ratio at birth, and the number of women in parliament and ministerial positions. In these categories, Korea ranked in 120th and 110th place.

Nordic countries like Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland kept the top four spots, just as they did last year. Countries like Latvia and Lithuania made a big leap to 13th and 14th place, from in the 20s last year, the data showed. Korea’s neighboring countries, including China and Japan, were listed in 73rd and 91st place, respectively.

Saadia Zahidi, head of the WEF’s Women Leaders Program, urged countries to make greater endeavors to achieve gender equality. “Even the countries with the smallest gap recorded 0.8 in index, and the gap between the bottom countries was about 0.43 point,” she said.

“Narrowing the gender disparities is directly linked to economic growth and profitability,” she added, emphasizing that inequalities in pay and employment opportunity are still prominent and even increasing in developing countries.

By Jeong Hyeon-ji


What’s interesting is how Yonhap’s first sentence is “South Korean women are among the least empowered in the world” and the Korea Herald’s is “The gender gap in Korea is getting narrower.” The Korea Herald says it’s “good news” and that Korea is making “slow but steady improvement.”

The Korea Herald piece also says, “However, it was far behind in other areas such as the sex ratio at birth, and the number of women in parliament and ministerial positions.” Yes, absolutely, I’d like to see improvements in those areas, and for those improvements to translate into progress in other areas, such as in the family sphere. One area where Korea ranks highly is that it exports the highest proportion of its children for overseas adoption. Adoption researcher Peter Selman writes, “But many observers, including myself, have noted that intercountry adoption is an anomaly in a rich, low-birth-rate country like South Korea… The birth mothers of children placed for adoption in Korea (whether domestic or international) are predominantly young unmarried women facing the stigma of an illegitimate birth in a society which offers no support for the single parent.” (“The Rise and Fall of Countries of Origin,” Proceedings of the First International Korean Adoption Studies Research Symposium, 67).

In my humble opinion, even if Korean women begin to make the same as men (I purposely don’t say “earn the same wages” because I’m sure they work just as hard, if not harder, than men), many would probably still be and feel pressured to “give up” their children for adoption because of persistent social stigmas.

Korea still has a long way to go in terms of empowering women.

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