Must expand the concept of ‘household’ to include family care
Although there is much attention focused on ‘work-life balance,’ there is a lot of criticism made that most systems and policies only concentrate on ‘normal families’ formed through marriage and exclude other types of families and singles. Currently most of the policies for work-life balance are maternity leave and childcare leave, focused on child rearing and preventing career discontinuity for married women. Moreover, most ‘family-friendly’ systems are directed towards normal families.
Lee Mira (pseudonym), who turned 39 this year, is a gynecology nurse. Lee’s work, which has three-shift system, resets schedule every month. Despite the fact that Lee’s position is the second highest among all female nurses, she has to work during national holidays and long weekend holidays because she doesn’t have a spouse. Since she understands her colleagues’ arduous schedule of preparing for the family gatherings and visiting their relatives, she offers her time for them. However, it is frustrating whenever people regard it normal for singles to work during the holidays.
Experts point out that while ‘work-life balance’ system is not properly settled, women feel pressured to support and encourage married women’s double torture of work and childcare and that it is a problem if the excessive workload of married women is shouldered by single women rather than a proper system. Conflict is inevitable if single women have to repeatedly excuse married women coming to work late and leaving office too early despite heavy workload in order to attend school meetings or to take care of their ill children.
This may seem like a ‘conflict between the women’ at the workplace, but experts emphasize that this must be solved by improving systems rather than left to individuals. The fundamental cause of this problem is that the burden of house chores and childcare is imposed solely on women. Lee Eun-hee, a team leader at Korea Foundation for Women, stated, “Work-life balance issue must be understood and addressed in a more broad sense. It’s especially important that members of the family provide a helping hand in childcare and house chores.” She also added, “Alarmed by the low birth rate, government policies have been concentrated on families with the burden of childcare, attracting social attention on married women only. However, this is unfair. The government must institutionally encourage male participation in childcare and find replacement measures must be arranged.” FamLife Research Institute Manager Byun Wha-soon criticized that “Even though there is a system, women are still shouldering all the burden of raising children. This must change. Until now policies have only shed light to mothers with children who have both parents, and thus overlooked diverse other types of families.”
In addition, because the ‘work-life balance’ was interpreted in a very narrow sense, support for family care such as for the elderly rather than for children was ruled out. One women’s rights activist raised her voice saying “Unless the family is made through marriage, it is not acknowledged as a family. In fact, singles supporting aged parents are considered as children under parents’ protection. The idea of family must be re-interpreted in a broader perspective.” Byun added, “As we move on to an aging society, we must take family nursing of aged parents as sincerely as rearing children. The Korean society only pays attention to the traditional types of family that people such as single-parent families or singles are trapped in blind spots.”
Since the number of women who marry late or who decide not to marry is on the rise, a comprehensive interpretation of ‘work-life balance’ and supplementary policies for single women are a pressing matter. According to the National Statistical Office, the number of female single households grew 138% (1,280,000 households) from 932,000 households to 2,218,000 households from 1995 to 2010, opening the era of 2 million female single households. However, it is hard to find a supportive policy for them in today’s policy system based on a family of four. For example, the woman deduction benefit, which provides a yearly deduction of 500,000 won for female householders without a spouse, was drastically cut back as the government adjusted the salary criteria to 25,000,000; however, during the National Assembly tax system evaluation, the salary criteria was raised to 40 million. As such, women are marginalized regarding the benefits of income tax deduction or housing policies.