Ranking lowest out of the 29 OECD countries in the “Glass Ceiling Index” announced by the Economist earlier this year, Korea is once again a laughing stock when it comes to gender equality. Korea received 20 points out of a 100, falling short of the OECD countries average of 60 points. The index was based on OECD and International Labor Organization evaluations in ten indicators including educational attainment, labor-market attachment, pay and representation in senior jobs. Korea ranked last in 3 of these 10 indicators. Women wages were 34.6% lower compared to men, the number of women managers were at 12.5%, and the percentage of women board members were at 2.3%, abysmally low compared to fellow member countries.
Why is this so? Korea is famous for “The Miracle of Han-River” achieving industrialization within half a century after the devastating Korean War. Despite our miracle and the amazing progress we achieved in the advance of technology, we seem to be experiencing a “Cultural Lag”. This term refers to the notion that culture takes time to catch up with technological innovations, causing social problems. I believe the use of this term can be stretched to cover the lack of awareness in Korea concerning women’s rights. From ancient times, men were considered more important since physical prowess was a crucial factor for survival. This perception is also prominent in Korea’s history, where women stayed home while men went out to farm or participated in war. A lot has changed since the times where the strongest man wins. Humans have evolved enough so that physical strength itself is not significant to our success. The “qualifications” of the current society are intellectual, including factors like critical thinking and creativity. However, in spite of the fact that Korea is a leading country in electronics, and a country known for our hard core education system, we seem to be stuck in the past where men were considered more valuable. Of course, it won’t be easy for our older generations to suddenly change their beliefs. They were taught that women should stay at home to have kids and take care of the housework. Men were supposed to go to the workplace and provide a living for their family. But now it’s time for them to understand that that is no longer the case. The world has changed, Korea has changed, and now it’s time for the people to change with it.
Where does Ewha stand when it comes to gender equality? As a university widely known for our stand against injustice and women rights, I believe our school is a perfect learning place for young women who are in the process of developing values about women empowerment and gender equality. In our changed society, we have an obligation to learn, and take after our seniors in acting toward gender equality and women empowerment.
I believe the most important thing we need to keep in mind is that men and women have differences. Since humans are fundamentally animals, and we evolved with the need to reproduce, men and women have physical differences and therefore are inevitably open to certain gender roles. What we need to acknowledge is that our physical differences and the roles that we may need to play should not hold us back. It should not be a discriminatory factor in the society nor should we stay quiet when it is. Ewha, and more widely women in general should work to improve awareness so that we both embrace our differences with men, and are able to spread our dreams without a glass ceiling.