Reunification Won’t Produce Results without Womens Participation
Reunification Won’t Produce Results without Womens Participation
  • reported by Lee Jung-joo jena21@womennews.co.kr
  • 승인 2002.09.30 00:00
  • 수정 2013-07-12 16:27
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When the Berlin Wall came down on 9 November 1989, Germany took a big step away from the era of division and towards the era of reunification.
When the Berlin Wall came down on 9 November 1989, Germany took a big step away from the era of division and towards the era of reunification.
Why must women participate more actively in the reunification movement? 

The answer can be found in the German situation. After reunification, the lives of German women changed rapidly. Looking at the lowered social status and other bad influences suffered by women from East Germany after unification, the women of Korea began to ask themselves the above question with greater earnestness. If women remain as indifferent as they are now to the issue of reunification, it is highly likely that they will face even greater disadvantages than their German counterparts after reunification. This alone is enough reason for women to spur themselves to greater participation in the reunification movement.

The German reunification is said to have weakened the social status of women, particularly East German women. When East Germany was absorbed by West Germany with the reunification, men and women alike had a hard time adapting to the new system, but the changes were particularly detrimental to the lives of women from East Germany, so much so that they were called the losers in reunification.

Academics who study the German reunification all say that reunification is sexist. Evidence of this was presented at the Women, Peace & Reunification Forum organized by the Women for Peace Society. According to a survey conducted by German scholar Khoeler, 75% of the East German women surveyed thought that men and women were equal in the former East Germany, an overwhelming majority compared to the 10% who thought that women were discriminated against. But after reunification, 72% thought that women are facing discrimination, while a mere 16% thought that men and women are equal. As can be seen from this survey, it is the discrimination against women brought on by reunification that has made the women the losers in reunification.

As is well known, women in East Germany before reunification were an active part of the workforce. The East German government encouraged womens economic participation, and set up more childcare facilities as part of the social support structure necessary for women to juggle work and family. Thanks to such support, the employment rate for women in 1989, right before the reunification, reached 89%, and they enjoyed quite a high social status. But jobs in East Germany for women after the reunification dropped to 40~45%, and female unemployment rate increased some thirteen-fold. The government closed down childcare centers run at workplaces, reduced social support for women, prohibited abortion, and stopped subsidies for contraceptives. As a result, the social status of East German women fell sharply. As women lost their economic independence, their status in the family also fell, reportedly leading to greater instances of domestic violence.

In Vietnams case, professor Ham In Hee (Sociology, Ewha Womens University) points out that social security policies protecting womens labor decreased after reunification, marginalizing women from the labor market and increasing the social burden on women. The professor emphasized, We must not overlook the fact that women have become the greatest victims in the process of integrating two different systems. 

The historic experiences of Germany and Vietnam point to the important need for women to participate actively in the movement for reunification. Explains Professor Jeong Baek Hyun (Sociology, Sung Kyun Kwan University), For women policies to move closer to womens liberation after achieving national reunification, women must participate actively in the reunification movement and exercise more power in the process of making and implementing reunification policies. She adds, The reality, however, is that there are still not enough women in the various committees and organizations working for reunification. As of September 2002, women account for 20%(6/29) on the Reunification Advisory Board, 20%(2/10) on the Policy Advisory Board, 20%(3/15) on the Reunification Policy Evaluation Committee, and 20%(36/180) on the Committee on Democracy and Peaceful Reunification. This is somewhat higher than the 1998 figures (22%, 8.3%, 0%, 14.9% respectively), but still falls far short of the 30% quota requested by women groups.

There would be a variety of reasons for the low interest and participation of women in the field of reunification policies or the reunification movement. Whatever the case, things must change, if we are to avoid repeating the self-derisive complaint of our East German counterparts that those who do not defend themselves will go back to bending over the cooking stove.

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