Women’s Representativeness in Every Area, the Key for Real Gender Equality
- ‘Strategic Engagement for Gender Equality 2016-2019’, Announced by EU Commission, Focuses on the Five Priority Areas in Promoting Gender-Equality and Women’s Rights
Last year, the EU announced ‘Strategic Engagement for Gender Equality 2016-2019’. The focus is on the five priorities, which are increasing female labor market participation and equal economic independence; reducing the gender pay, earnings and pension gaps; promoting equality between women and men in decision-making; combating gender-based violence and protecting and supporting victims; and promoting gender equality and women's rights across the world. There goals are connected to the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN Summit in 2015.
The Women’s News recently met with H.E. Ambassador Gerhard Sabathil of the EU Delegation to Korea (photo) and listened to his explanation on gender-equality policies the EU has focused on. Ambassador Sabathil started for his post in Korea last December. He started his story, saying that he has had female bosses for the last 12 years since 2004, and it should be a case rarely observed in Korea.
-We guess you have met quite a few Korean women since you started working here. How is the impression of them?
“In fact, I met very few women. More than 80% of those I meet in my position are male. It was quite surprising that I could not see many women while I’ve been working. I have felt that representation by women in the Korean society is far from the satisfactory level not only in the politics but also in any other field in Korea. Although the President of Korea is female, other areas and various positional levels should accept more women.”
-In Korea, there are lots of women experiencing career discontinuity because of childbirth and child-raising. In addition, the childbirth rate of Korea ranks the lowest globally. What would be the main driving force to raise the childbirth rates and rates of women’s participation in economic activities in European countries?
“Europe is heterogeneous, meaning the levels of gender equality vary from country to country. In the case of Greece, the rate of women’s participation in economic activities is merely 44% while Sweden has 70%. Europe narrowed its gender gap in the employment rate from 16% to 12% in 10 years. This is very successful. Currently, the employment rate of men is 76% with that of women being 64%.
In terms of childbirth rates, the best examples are the Nordic countries. The birth rates and employment rates of Sweden, Finland and Denmark have remained high. The main driving force lies on very practical policies and measure, social atmosphere and their gender-equal cultures. Only legislation does not work. Followed educational systems and social recognition are required. In addition, sufficient open discussion among the public should be followed, too. Especially, men should participate in the discussion of gender-related issues. Men’s attitudes and manner towards gender-equality is also a very important variable. I think European men have more open attitudes for gender-equality compared to Korean men.
Their practical measures include parental leaves, equal pay, flexible working system, special leaves, etc. More companies now have their own childcare centers. However, the key is still for women and men to equally have the recognition of the problem and men’s attitudes and change in their perception of gender-equality.”
-How does the monitoring system for the implementation of gender-equality policies by each European country work?
“Gender-equality is fundamentally the matter of human rights. It was already agreed upon in Rome Treaties back in 1957. The EU’s framework for gender-equality applies to every member country. Meanwhile, in certain areas, so-called positive discrimination approach is chosen. That is, we spare positions only for women to narrow the gender gap. The EU also suggests the gender quota system for women’s positions in boards of directors in the private sector to achieve women’s representativeness in decision-making processes as well as in economic activities or in terms of employment opportunities.
In addition, the Court’s rules related to gender-equality based on the Constitution definitely have impacts. It is socially integrative actions that work, in other words, the synchronization of functions of the public opinions, policy-making, legislation, open discussion, change in perception and so forth.”
-Korea is going to have the election of members of the National Assembly in coming April. In such European countries as have achieved the gender quota system or the gender equal cabinet successfully, how did they enforce those active measures?
“The open discussion over women’s representativeness proceeded very actively while discussions inside the parties were also very vigorous. The key point of those discussions was what kind of women candidates would be produced. Europe has very good examples of women leaders such as Margaret Thatcher, the British leader and Tarja Halonen of Finland. The public has less and less anti-sentiment against women’s representativeness.
Although there are varied levels of gender-equality in Europe, the average value of the proportions of female members of the National Assembly is twice as high as Korea’s. Political parties should spare positions for women, refraining from fights for the seats among the members. Female politicians tend to deal with complex matters or conflicts in a way that would bring more positive outcomes.”
-In the Korean Society, discussions to reach an agreement are not performed well. It might come from cultural factors. What is the reason for you to emphasize on the discussion process?
“In my experiences, the more modernized a society is, the more open the society is. Europe has big differences between the East and the West, and the South and the North. Nordic countries have always stepped forwards, and Eastern Europe also went ahead in gender-equality until 1989. In countries in Western Europe, they tried to draw more women into the labor market because of economic reasons. Like this, the matter of gender-equality is related to historical backgrounds.
Before policy-making, they go through sufficient discussions, which will bring about practical effects when the policy is actually enforced. The roles of women in media are very significant because the media make the public opinions, gradually changing consciousness and attitudes for gender-equality that people have.”