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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 112-122-E
Division Number: VI.
Professional Group: Women's Issues
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 122.
Simultaneous Interpretation:  

Women's Development and Information on Women in Korea

Young-Joo Paik
Korean Women's Development Institute
Seoul, Korea
Email: yjpaik@kwominet.or.kr


In traditional Korean society, women were largely confined to the home. But women's social participation became active in Korean society and the social recognition of women's rights and roles have changed. As recognition of women's issues has grown, both domestically and world-wide, the need for comprehensive and reliable information on women and their concerns has been increased.

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.


1. Women's Development in Korea over the past 50 years

2. Women's Status

During the last three decades, Korea has achieved remarkable economic growth. However, despite a number of significant changes in the economic, political and social fields (as have been briefly described above) the progress in improving the status of women has been less impressive.

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.

3. Introduction of Women's Studies

Women's studies as an academic teaching subject came into being in Korea in the middle of the 1970s. The introduction of feminist-oriented Women's Studies into universities was sensational and created a debate concerning the relevance of the Western-born scholarship of Women's Studies to Korean society. The main point was that Korean society is culturally different from Western societies, so that Western theories of feminism could not be applied to Korean women.

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.

4. Information on Women

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

D. Women's Information Center and Networking

  1. The Women's Information Center of the KWDI
  2. The KWDI, a government supported organization, was established to promote women's social participation and welfare by carrying out research and studies on women, by providing education and training for women, and by assisting women's activities

    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.

  3. Activities undertaken by the WIC
  4. Since 1995, the WIC has developed a number of Korean-language databases which are now available online. These summarize the research and activities of the KWDI since the organization was first established in 1983. Individual databases include ones on laws and legal issues of concern to women in Korea; indexes and abstracts of the holdings of the KWDI Women's Information Resource Center; indexes to journal articles and newspaper clippings on women's issues; the full text of research reports, educational materials produced by the KWDI, and all issues of KWDI's journal, "Women's Studies" (1990~ ); and news and policies concerning women. English-language databases include laws which affect Korean women; status of Korean women; research articles on women's issues; and a summary of the KWDI's work.

    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:

    1. a directory of women's groups and organizations such as the women's divisions of government agencies, women's centers, women's groups, and women's research institutes;
    2. a directory of women's resources which includes women experts, job seekers, and volunteers;
    3. statistics on women, FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) on women's issues; and
    4. the full text of proceedings of meetings and seminars.

    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.

  5. WINAP as a regional network
  6. Liason with WINAP is another important aspect of the WIC's work. As the regional focal point, WINAP provides a critical communications link among women in the Asia and the Pacific region. Important services which WINAP provides to Korea and other countries include technical guidance and advisory services to countries to strengthen their national women's information network; provision of a number of regional databases; the creation of region-wide statistics on women and region-wide bibliographic databases.

    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.

  7. Conclusion
  8. In undertaking it's challenging task, WIC is committed to increasing the role of Korean women in developing the national women's information network through computer networking. To achieve this, the WIC hopes to encourage Korean the participation of women in social development and political affairs by providing them with high-quality information on issues of concern to them, as well as opportunities to exchange information and collaborate with women, both inside and outside the country.

    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.