Three years have passed since President Kim's inauguration. How has the president - who has shown the most interest in women issues - fared in terms of women's policies?
Women groups generally agree that forming an administrative body in charge of women policies such as the Ministry of Gender Equality deserves high marks.
Another noteworthy achievement would be the active efforts to legislate or revise laws concerning women. Compared to the Roh Taewoo government's 19 and the Kim Youngsam government's 49, Kim Daejung has already enacted or revised 45 women-related laws with two years left to even further outstrip his predecessors. Now there are laws to support women-led companies, and women-related clauses have been added to a variety of laws including the Basic Act for Agriculture and Rural Communities, the Basic Education Act, the Broadcasting Act, and laws to reduce the digital divide.
Critics have a lot to say as well. The KWAU held a discussion on the 22nd of last month titled 'Three Years of Kim Daejung's Women Policies: Evaluation and Policy Recommendations.' Chung Hyunbaek, one of the panelists, criticized Kim for choosing low cost and high profile over practicality and effectiveness in dealing with women policies. Kim Elim, chief researcher at the Korean Women's Development Institute, pointed out that women policies were made without sufficient opinion surveys or publicity.
How much of his campaign pledges has Kim kept?
▲ Social Participation=Kim's party kept its promise to allocate 30% of its candidacies to women at the 16th general elections, producing a record 16 women lawmakers, who take up 5.8% of national assembly seats. However, the promised 4 Cabinet seats have yet to materialize, standing at just two women in the Cabinet, up one from 1999. The target for women's participation in the various government committees by the year 2000 was 25%, but the current percentage stands at a much lower 20.4%. Kim also promised that by expanding women's playing field, he would nurture more women leaders for the age of globalization, digitalization and reunification. But Internet classes for housewives was about all that came out of it. Women representation was low in inter-Korean exchanges including the North-South Summit, and women members are scarce in the various North-South joint committees.
▲ Economic participation=In the past, the issue of gender discrimination was tackled mainly in the field of employment, but new laws preventing and remedying gender discrimination have expanded the field to include consumption of goods, services and facilities. Also, by enacting laws to support women-led companies, an institutional mechanism for nurturing such companies has been established. When it comes to the all-important issue of employment and job security, however, Kim is the target of strong criticism from women groups. As of Oct. 2000, 74.4% of men participate in the economy, a 0.8% drop from the previous year. The same figures for women are 49.5% and 0.3% respectively. Women did experience a smaller decrease in employment rate than men, but compared to 1997, the number of unemployed women has increased 1.2 times, and women are being relegated to irregular employment at a much faster rate than men. Women workers are asking for measures to protect such irregular workers and others employed under special conditions, but related laws are not even in the making. Another promise yet to be kept is maternity protection laws such as the extension of maternity leave and social cost-sharing, which are still on hold at the National Assembly. The budget is ready, but collecting dust as the bill awaits review at the coming extraordinary session in April. Angry women groups are seriously questioning the government's sincerity in getting the bill passed.
▲ Family policies=Kim's pledged as a presidential candidate to bring equality to family relationships through such measures as evaluation of housework by full-time housewives. A survey of the time spent on housework has been carried out, but the monetary value of housework has yet to be factored into the GDP. As for revising gender discriminatory clauses in laws related to national pension and the treatment of citizens of merit, Kim kept his promise at the end of last year. However, the president did not make the passing grade for the revision of the Family Act, which is the cornerstone of equality in families. For example, the Constitutional Court ruled in 1997 that the law prohibiting marriages between men and women with the same family name is unconstitutional, but that law has yet to be revised. What is worse is the government's refusal to even talk about the abolishment of the Hoju system.
▲ Women's Welfare=According to Professor Chung Jaehoon (Dept. of Social Welfare, Sangji Univ.), several improvements have been made, from the four main national insurance systems (pension system, employment insurance, health insurance, and insurance against industrial hazards) to a variety of welfare services and infrastructure. The problem is, says Chung, that the lack of funds considerably reduces the effect of such improvements. Another problem pointed out by Chung is the lack of child care facilities. More than 80% of such facilities in Korea are privately run, and access to child care is denied to 62% of the children who need it. Welfare policies for minority groups such as single mothers, disabled women, older women and prostitutes are also insufficient.
▲ Preventing violence and protecting human rights=The president is generally considered a disappointing 'human rights champion.' Opposition from the Ministry of Justice itself has blocked the passage of laws for setting up a national human rights committee dealing with gender discrimination and sexual violence. Lawmakers are still refusing to ratify the clause in the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) allowing freedom of choice in family name. The Optional Protocol to the CEDAW has not been ratified either, proving that Korea falls short of international standards when it comes to human rights.