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This paper will review women's development in Korea over the past 50 years focused on legal issues of concern to Korean women and the activities on women's information management and networking initiated by the Korean Women's Development Institute. It will stress the importance of the cooperation between women's groups or organizations to collect, process and disseminate information in developing an information exchange system.
And the discrimination between the sexes in favor of the male-based, as it was, on feudal Confucianism-dominated all aspects of women's lives. As a result, women had to live subordinated to men.
At the end of 18th century, the emergence of Practical Science introduced the issue of equal human rights and, in a limited way, provided positive views on the women's social participation. And the introduction of Western Learning became a prime motivating factor in stressing the equality of humanity and in treating women as human beings. At the end of 19th century, the opening of Korea to the outside world accelerated women's social participation.
Under the influence of the introduction of Practical Science and modern civilization from the Western World into the country, the necessity of education became intensified and educational opportunities increased, which raised women's consciousness about the discrimination they experienced under Korean patriarchal society.
Women's social participation became active in Korean society and the social recognition of women's rights and roles have changed. The developmental changes have been due to the enlargement of women's roles based on social change, the elevation of the level of education, and familial change, but most of all change has been due to the strong demands by women seeking development for themselves.
"Women's development" means the increase in their economic participation and equal opportunity and equal treatment at work force, as well as the discarding of the discriminatory perception of women in society. And it means that women, as members of society, should take equal responsibility and share equal burdens for the society where legal and social system backed up equally to women.
The problems and barriers that women have faced should be recognized as social problems and should be resolved through national concern and policies. This will lead the development of women and therefore of the society and of the country.
Women, who had been up to this moment for hundreds of years of history confined to the extended family, began to realize their own rights and some women leaders worked to construct various organizations. New women's groups were formed and previously existing ones were reorganized and invigorated to contribute to a variety of fields such as politics, social affairs, religion, education, and social service.
In 1946 the Women's Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs was opened as the first governmental office to deal with the growing needs and problems of women.
The Constitution of the Republic of Korea, established in 1948, following the liberation, declared gender equality and the equal right of women to vote. It stated that men and women are equal and that women are equally entitled to receive education, to be able to work, and to participate in the society. These seminal constitutional changes marked women's entry into equal participation with men in many aspects of their life in a newly developing society.
A woman was elected in a by-election to the first National Assembly. And in 1951 another woman successfully passed the national judicial examination and became the first woman lawyer.
The Korean War (1950-1953) proved how strong and self-reliant women could be under the most adverse conditions. Many women had to support their families and themselves while their husbands or sons were away fighting the communists. Many even lost husbands and sons in the war. As a result of their war experiences women realized the importance of the development of their capabilities not only to be able to survive but also to prosper economically. They also cared for war orphans, widows, and wounded soldiers and made truly remarkable contributions to the reconstruction of Korea after the tragic war. Following the signing of the ceasefire the government returned to Seoul in 1953, women's social participation expanded remarkably in scope and nature.
The new government began to formulate specific women's policies such as for supporting war widows and for the prevention of prostitutes.
The Labor Standard Act was enacted in 1953, which guarantees basic equality between men and women in employment and special protection for women during pregnancy and maternity.
The National Council of Women was organized in 1959 and implemented the core role in women's activities.
In 1963 there were 2,835,000 economically active women among a total female population of 7,670,000 aged 15 years and older and the percentage was 37.0 percent.
The changes in household types toward nuclear families and the decline in the birth rate resulting from family planning urged by the government had a profound effect on women's lives
Since the inauguration of the compulsory education system in 1953, the educational opportunities for women have greatly expanded, which was then accompanied by an increase in female enrollment at the elementary, secondary and higher levels of education.
In 1962 The Prevention of Prostitution Act was enacted and the first revision of the Family Law was passed.
The International Women's Year of 1975 and the subsequent United Nations Decade for Women (1976-1985) brought about significant advancement for Korean women. During the International Year of Women in 1975, the year of Women in Korea was proclaimed thus linking the women's movement in Korea to the world women's movement. Korean women's organizations dispatched representatives to various international conferences held in connection with the UN Decade for Women to solidify cooperative relations and to exchange information with foreign counterpart organizations. The adoption of the Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979, with its worldwide impact on further improving and enhancing of the status of women, has greatly changed public attitude in Korea towards sexual equality and the concept of women's advancement.
Starting with Ewha Womans University in Seoul in 1977, women's studies has been introduced into various universities. This has provided the theoretical basis for helping to solve women's problems and has contributed to raising women's consciousness.
Aiming at improving women's status, the activities of women's groups covered diverse fields such as the improvement of labor conditions for female workers, the extension of women's social education, the opposing campaign on Kisaeng-sightseeing or prostitute-sightseeing.
In 1985, the National Committee on Women's Policies adopted the "Master Plan for Women's Development" and the "Guidelines for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women" as government policies.
The central administrative system dealing with women's affairs is composed of the Ministry of Political Affairs (2) and the Women's Welfare Division of the Family Welfare Bureau of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. The Women's Welfare Division sets up general plans for women's welfare, administers women's guidance and educational programs, and supervises shelters for disadvantaged women. Fifteen Bureaus of Family Welfare headed by women were established in fifteen major cities and provinces in 1988. These Bureaus work for women's welfare in their respective areas and are closed tied with the central Women's Welfare Division.
The Korean Constitution was amended in 1987, introducing a new clause on the duty of the State to promote women's welfare and equality. The Equal Employment Opportunity Law drafted by the then government in 1987, went into effect in 1988. A section on equal pay for equal labor was inserted into the law in 1989. With a view to safeguard the security and welfare of single-mother households, the government enacted the Mother-Child Welfare Law in 1989.
A drastically revised Family Law was also passed in 1989. This revision was a direct result of the struggle by women's organizations which had fought to remove the discriminatory patriarchal elements in the earlier Law passed in 1958.
Feminism had begun to advance in the artistic fields of literature, painting, drama, movies, and dancing in the 1980s. Women artists described the objective reality of women's oppression and featured the realities from a variety of feminist perspectives.
Regarding legal rights, the Infant Care Act was promulgated in 1991 for the promotion of home welfare by bringing up infants and pre-schoolers whose guardians have difficulty protecting them; and the Act Relating to Punishment of Sexual Violence and Protection of Victims was enacted in 1993. The Prevention of Prostitution Act was revised in 1995.
In 1991, according to a regulation concerning the commission and regulation of administrative authority, the authority to coordinate the tasks of the KWDI was transferred from the Ministry of Health and Welfare to the Ministry of Political Affairs (2), which resulted in rearranging the administrative systems way of dealing with women's policies. In the same year, 274 Family Welfare Divisions, under the Ministry of Health and Welfare, with women heads in towns, counties and wards were also founded to deal with women's welfare issues. With the introduction of local government, the increase of women's political participation is expected.
The Special Committee on Women at the National Assembly was established as a permanent body in 1994, which could serve as a channel to support the enactment and revision of the laws relating to women.
The Seventh Five Year Economic and Social Development Plan includes a new women's development plan for the period 1992-1996 with special emphasis on education, employment, cultural and social activities, welfare and international cooperation.
The Ministry of Labor has prepared "The Basic Plan to Promote Working Women's Welfare" (1994-1997) which aims to contribute to improving the status of working women and their welfare by implementing a policy of equal opportunity, expanding maternity protection, and developing human resources through women's work capabilities.
Until the creation of the Republic of Korea in 1948, sexual discrimination against women, which was due to the acceptance of Confucian social rules dominated all aspects of women's lives.
The Constitution of the Republic of Korea, promulgated in 1948, guaranteed respect for the dignity of individuals and equality between men and women as a guiding principle under the initiative of democratic legislative measures. Based on this principle, various legislative reforms have been implemented and the status of women in Korea has undergone enormous changes. Accordingly, discrimination against women in political, economic, social, cultural, and other fields has lessened.
A series of successful economic development plans has helped Korea achieve remarkable economic growth and social transformation. Women have had increasingly greater opportunities to take part in economic activities. As of 1996, there were 8.4 million working women who accounted for 40.6 percent of the total work force. Despite this increase, the number of women holding policy-making positions in administration and management is still very small.
Korean women today, however, are actively engaged in a wide variety of fields including education, medicine, science, engineering, scholarship, arts, literature and sports. There are female lawmakers, business executives and university presidents. Though only a handful in number, some women have proved their excellent abilities and leadership as cabinet ministers. These changes all attest to the fact that Korean women, given opportunities, can develop their potential and make significant contributions to society.
The increasing presence of women and the changes in Korean society have brought the government to the realization that it must develop new policies for women. By a presidential decree, the National Committee on Women's Policies was formed in 1983. The KWDI was established in the same year. In compliance with the changing social environment, the government established the Ministry of Political Affairs (2) to handle women's matters in 1988. The government named a woman minister to lead this ministry. In the same year, 15 Family Welfare Bureaus with women directors were also established at the provincial government level.
Also, development and changes in the economy and society in the last thirty years have resulted in significant changes in the lifestyles of women. Some of these are: a longer life expectancy for women, a drop in the birth rate, an improved standard of education, more nuclear families, changes in family life resulting from a raised consciousness, less of a burden from household responsibilities due to the availability of electrical appliances, etc. All these factors combined have brought about a steady increase in the number of women engaging in various social activities and the number of those wishing to do so.
In spite of the above-mentioned advances and changes, the unemployment rate of women in higher academic careers still remains high. Most women workers are still engaged in low-wage jobs where they are subject to employment or wage discrimination. Although the participation of married women in economic activities is continuously increasing, the supply of public childcare facilities for children of low-income women workers falls short of the sharply growing demand. These problems have continued to increase despite the Government's implementation of economic and social development plans. Improvement of women-related laws and social systems have failed to yield substantial results or to enhance the position of women. Though it is difficult and thus time-consuming to completely eliminate entrenched traditions of discrimination against women, and to fully realize their equal participation in every field, the Government must work to promote the conditions under which women can improve their status. This must be done not only at the de jure level but also at the de facto level. Only in this way can women fully demonstrate their capabilities and contribute to society on an equal footing with men. Specifically, the Government must work to eliminate persistent, stereotyped concepts based on traditional sex roles and provide a climate conducive to women's full participation in society.
In the future, various efforts should be exerted to implement the plans in the Long-Term Perspective on National Development Toward the Year 2000. This would be in accordance with the guidelines suggested by the United Nations in the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women, which aims to promote the development of women's capacity, the utilization of women's resources, and a more healthy family life.
Women's Studies has been one of the fastest developing academic fields in Korea. Women's Studies courses have been introduced into and taught at many universities and colleges even though - as yet - no college or university has instituted Women's Studies as a major or minor discipline at the under graduate level.
As of 1996 most of the more than one hundred universities and colleges in Korea have come to include various Women's Studies courses in their general curriculum. A survey conducted by Seoul Women's University in 1996 revealed that 77 courses related to Women's Studies were offered in Korea.
The information requirements of these different categories vary and need to be met by making information available in different formats and through a variety of channels
The Division of Information and Publication of the KWDI has collected women-related materials home and abroad, systematized them and provided information services to researchers and activists on women's issues since the establishment of the Institute in 1983. The Division was enlarged into the Women's Information Center (WIC) in 1996 to try and meet the country's critical need for data on women. Since the Center was founded, it has been working with a wide range of government agencies and women's organizations both to improve the collection of data on women and improve its distribution.
The WIC's goals are to facilitate government policy-making and women's research and activities by systematically gathering data on women from various fields, organizing it, packaging it and distributing it to national, regional and world-wide audiences. To facilitate its work, the WIC plans to operate an information network which links women's organizations within the country to each other, to ESCAP's regional Women's Information Network for the Asia and Pacific (WINAP) and to women's information networks world-wide.
As part of its operations, WIC identifies users of information about women, assesses their needs, conducts studies on information management, and trains network members to set up and manage a women's information system. The WIC also raises awareness about the need for comprehensive data on women and how it can be used.
The WIC is organized into two divisions. The Information and Publication Division produces printed materials and operates a Women's Information Resource Center which gathers and maintains materials and other sources of information related to women. It also distributes KWDI's publications. The Information System Division develops, installs and operates computer software, hardware and network systems and creates and manages women's information databases.
In 1997 the WIC has established a networked women's information system, "The Integrated Women's Information System," supervised by the Ministry of Political Affairs (2). This network will systematize the collection of data nationwide, compile them into databases and disseminate these. To achieve this, the system will link women's local points in local government offices in 15 areas of the country. These local points will be responsible for collecting data and sharing them with other network users. This system is available through the Internet, and it will be used by government agencies, women's organizations, and researchers as well as the general public, and will be connected with WINAP and other women's networks outside Korea.
Databases of the Integrated System include:
As a national women's information center, the WIC will provide advisory services to help network focal points to develop their own local women's information systems. The WIC will continue to extend the databases and provide an English translation service to exchange information with women in other countries via the Internet.
In the course of its pioneering work in Korea, the WIC has identified a number of obstacles. These include the high cost of translating material from Korean to English for inclusion in databases, the lack of human resources to update databases and modify the system in response to user demand, differences in computer and communications hardware and software which make it difficult for network members to share data, and network members' lack of knowledge about how to use computers and communications systems.
Some of the benefits of regional networking include improvements in the flow of data and information within and between countries and the sharing of resources. Networking not only allows the exchange of information, technology and know-how related to collection, processing, and dissemination techniques but also fosters cooperation between countries. By fostering cooperation between countries, networking helps reduce the duplication of efforts in the collection, compilation, retrieval and dissemination of information.
A prerequisite for the implementation of policies for the advancement of women in the future is easy access to reliable information. Such access will guarantee women opportunities in the global information society.