"Labor unions where women-related projects are still in the sidelines have yet to break away from the patriarchal system."
Words of Kim Se-ok, Head of Women's Committee, Korean Federation of Transportation, Public and Social Service Workers' Union. The 44-year-old labor activist says that having a career while bringing up three children is easy compared to facilitating women-related projects within the labor organization. This is her criticism of the "obsolete culture in labor unions."
"Whenever I bring up women's issues, colleagues push them into the back burner, saying, 'Now is not the time! We have so many other pressing problems.' In the past, it used to be 'Serve tea,' and now it's 'Would you mind making some tea?' If I take issue with it, they say 'But women make better tea,' blurring the gender issue. Another custom that belongs in the past."
Kim complains, "The big projects are dominated by men, and a few token women thrown in. Furthermore, there are so few women committee members, making it impossible to push for women-related policies." She goes on to point out, "Few women are appointed to committee member positions, because votes are cast according to 'gender considerations,' not based on capabilities and conscientiousness. There wouldn't be a single woman on the committee if not for the quota system, and that is why the male-oriented culture continues to exist."
Kim says that if the women's quota is to lead to more women executives in labor organizations rather than remaining a token gesture, unions must nurture more women labor activists. Women who want to retain their identity in a male-dominated world must make more sacrifices, but the unsupportive environment and lack of women executives make lasting women-related projects impossible.
The Korea Confederation of Trade Unions' (KCTU) goal of setting a 30% women's quota in its Representative and Central Committees by 2005 seems to be an answer to Kim's prayers. Just thinking about it puts a smile on her lips, and her present burden becomes easier to bear when she recalls the slogan '120 women representatives in KCTU by next year.' And why not? Kim may be the Head of the Women's Committee, but the dearth of women labor activists to work with forces her to play multiple roles, from planning to organization and execution.
Kim started out as a labor unionist at Korea Telecom but was dismissed in 1995, after which she joined the labor movement as a labor activists and women's rights activist. She is an 'iron lady' who brought up her three children without outside help. She is now facing up to the even more daunting challenge of changing the male-oriented culture of labor unions. And there is only one way to do this - "Move from the sidelines to center-stage!"