Few weeks ago, I found out a new soap opera which is gaining its popularity these days. Surprisingly, its title was “Working Mom, House Daddy.” The protagonist, Mi-so, struggles to balance between long and rigid working hours and child care at home. Mi-so fails to promote, and the chance of promotion went to her colleague whose mother-in-law took care of her child.
Women in South Korea find themselves struggling while managing between family and their career. South Korean law requires that private companies offer one year of paid maternity leave. However, in a poll of 3,000 firms issued last year, over 80 percent of private firms said that only one-third of female employees returned to work after their maternity leave.
A gender discrimination case at the liquor-maker company Kumbokju that happened earlier this year has reminded us all that South Korea is still stuck in an anachronistic perspective.
In March, one of Kumbokju’s female workers filed a petition to the government over the company’s pressure to quit her job after she got married. The petition resulted in an investigation by Ministry of Labor and the National Human Rights Commission. What they discovered was more astounding than what people imagined.
The investigation revealed that the company made it an official rule that female workers must quit their job if they want to get married. It was not just with marriage that the company discriminated against female workers. It limited the job positions for female staff to low positions so they, who are mostly high school graduates, could not be promoted beyond a certain level. The company also excluded mother-side relatives when giving employees special leave and allowances for funerals, marriages or other important family events and anniversaries.
As the woman who filed a petition refused to quit, the company transferred her to an irrelevant position from the work she had been doing, and demanded the coworkers to bully her by not talking to her.
These shocking practices have been continuing in the company even after the legislation of the Law on Gender Equality Employment was made in 1987.
Recently, the government is coming up with numerous measures to raise the country’s fertility rate, which is remaining at 1.24, the second-lowest among the OECD countries. However, the fertility rate is closely related to women employment rate, as many experts say.
For example, developed countries with great women participation in workforce such as Denmark and Sweden have much higher fertility rate than that of Korea. This shows that although we cannot say that government’s measures are idle, companies are holding the key to solve the problem. With perpetrators of blatant discrimination like Kumbokju, the fertility rate will only get worse.