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Overview of Korea’s development experience

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Institutionalization of women's policies

This period has seen an increase in education levels among women and in female social participation. The introduction of the Framework Act on Women’s Development in 1995 was the starting point for the institutionalization of women’s policies since it established the government’s responsibilities to promote women’s rights and gender equality. The introduction of affirmative action quotas for female candidates in parliamentary and local elections and employment in government offices brought great changes. The Equal Employment Opportunity Act was expanded into the Act on Equal Employment and Support for Work-Family Reconciliation. Various policies were also introduced to support female entrepreneurs, help develop career opportunities for middle-aged women who were returning to the workforce, and improve gender equality in employment. All these efforts created very positive changes in promoting the participation of women in political and social areas, including leadership roles.

Government controls on university enrollment quotas were abolished in 1995, which improved women’s access to higher education. The number of possible careers for women was increased with the establishment of an engineering faculty at Ewha Womans University and with more student enrollments in science and engineering faculties at other women’s universities. Women also had a greater chance to enter professional institutions that had previously banned or limited female students, including the Air Force Academy, the Military Academy, the National Tax College, the Korean National Railroad College and the Korean National Police University.

Since the mid-1990s, knowledge-based industries in the areas of financial services, health, education, public service and others, created lots of professional jobs. But the 1997 Asian financial crisis brought big changes in the labor market. Female employment fell by 7.3 percent in 1998 from the previous year, while the decline for men was 5.1 percent. Women were more affected by the crisis because many of the small firms that went bankrupt tended to employ female workers and women were first to be laid off in many cases. In a survey of 270,000 workers who lost their jobs, women formed a higher proportion than men in every sector and industry (Soon Kyung Cho, 1999). Especially in the financial and banking sectors, which were the most affected by the 1997 financial crisis, the rate of resignations by women in low positions was high and part-time employment among women increased dramatically. In cases involving two major financial services companies in 1998 where both members of married couples worked, the women were the first to be targeted for layoffs. In addition, 86 percent of “voluntary” resignations involved women (Young Ju Kim, 1998). Not only during the economic crisis in 1997, but also during other economic downturns, including the credit card crisis in 2003 and the recent global financial crisis in 2008, the number of female workers declined more sharply than their male counterparts.

Women’s economic participation has been growing steadily in the last 60 years, but women with higher education have a relatively low rate of labor participation. The employment rate of female university graduates is nearly the lowest among OECD countries, with a gap of nearly 20 percentage points below that of the OECD average.


Table 6-17. Employment rates of persons with tertiary education (2008)


 


Source : SaKong, Il and Koh, Youngsun, 2010. The Korean Economy Six Decades of Growth and Development. Seoul: Korea Development Institute.

References


· Cho, Soon Kyung,“ Gender Discrimination in Structural Adjustment,”Journal of Korean Association of Labor Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1999, pp.123-147 (in Korean).
· Kim, Young Ju“, Women’s Employment Pattern after the Economic Crisis,”Policy Discussion Forum, Women Link, 1998 (in Korean).

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