Korea: The government needs to improve social and gender policies

4-Rivers construction underway
on the Nakdong River. (Photo:
Lauren Stahl, internationalrivers.org)

Since the end of the Korean War in 1950, the country has achieved sustained economic growth. GDP, which at that time was US$ 67, doubled in a decade, between 2000 and 2010, Korea joined the OECD in 1996 and achieved most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). But inequality, as a side effect of economic growth, is present. There is no more extreme poverty but diversified poverty, and society still has challenges that are not shown by the indicators.

The government's economic policy has encouraged assembling industry export-oriented with cheap labor. Between 2000 and 2009, relative poverty rates for children, seniors and women increased. Poverty is concentrated in the elderly at female level, low education, vulnerable health and in rural areas. It is clear that the government needs to implement policies to reduce socioeconomic inequality that go beyond reducing inequity and poverty, by creating quality jobs and social protection programs.

No more extreme poverty, but diversified poverty. Korea achieved most of the MDGs, but the society has remained challenges which are not shown in MDGs indicators. Right after the Korean War, the GDP was USD 67 and was part of the group of the Least Developed Countries (LDC). The government of Korea pushed economy policy targeted to improve export-oriented assembling industry with cheap domestic labor forces. By the intensive support of the government, export-oriented industry of conglomerates has been lead Korea’s economic growth and the GDP got doubled from USD 533.5 billion in 2000 to USD 1014.3 billion in 2010. The government has relocated the fund from international market mostly to manufacturing, export, conglomerate, metropolitan area, and hometown of former presidents and it has deepened the gaps between regions, industries, social stratums, and sectors. The economy had stroked by Asia financial crisis in 1997 and global financial crisis in 2008. The economy has recovered but inequality and polarization of poverty got worsened. It is because lack of social protection mechanism and it raised working poor and self-employed small business owner as vulnerable group with traditional vulnerable groups, indigent children, female household, the disabled, and the elderly.

To overcome the financial crisis, the current government, so called MB administration, employed tax cut policies and job creation policies through the four major rivers project. However, mostly conglomerates have been benefited from the tax cuts. Besides, the 4 major rivers project has increased day laborers rather than stable full-time jobs which has benefited to construction conglomerates. According to Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs (KIHASA), in 2006 14.2% of households of 4 made less than a minimum cost of living, USD 1080 per month and in 2010 17.6% of household of 4 made less than USD 1258 per month. The percentage got doubled in rural areas compared to metropolis because of relatively lower income and high population of the elderly in rural areas.

From 2000 to 2009, relative poverty rates of child, the elderly, and female household were increased. The child poverty rate was higher in rural areas and to age of 12-18. The main reasons of the child poverty are the conditions of households when they are female, the elderly, low level of education, single source of income with day labor. The elderly poverty is concentrated in female, low level of education, vulnerable health condition, and rural areas. The Female household suffers more when the household is old, low level of education, less source of income, large number of under aged children, and has part-time jobs. It is clear that the government has to adopt policies to reduce socioeconomic inequality and poverty which are further than relocation of wealth, by creating quality jobs and reducing blind spots of social protection programs.

Facing challenges to empower women. Korea has low level of gender equality in terms of decision making initiatives. The government statistic showed that female ratio of government officer increased from 34% in 2003 to 41.8% in 2010 and female ratio of deputy director increased from 5.9% in 2003 to 9.0% in 2010. The government has propelled policies to promote female ratio, for example Women's Employment Target System (1998~2002), Gender Equality Employment Target System (2003-2007), System to Expand ratio of Women managers (2007~2011), and 40% of female participation at the government council. Korea adopted the Equal Employment Opportunity Law in 1989 and declared Affirmative Action to promote female recruitment, but according to Women on Boards Report in 2011, only 1.9% of women were on boards and 0% was at companies with at least three female directors. Right before 16th general election, the Political Party Law was amended to guarantee 30 % of female local council members and 50% of female parliament members for proportion representatives. The ratios of female representatives increased from 5.9% in 2000 to 13.7% in 2010 for parliaments and from 2.3% in 2000 to 20.3% in 2010 for local council.

Korea women still suffer from sexual discrimination in political, social, economic representation and the government has to improve enthusiastic policies.

Source: Social Watch National Report 2013