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(EDITORIAL from the Korea Herald on March 9)

All Headlines 07:06 March 09, 2016

Making women happier
Advancing quality of their lives is national priority

Korea had little to celebrate on International Women's Day this week. The latest statistics show that Korea is one of the unhappiest countries for women.

At home, Korean women have it harder than their peers in other countries. The latest report by Statistics Korea shows that Korean men spend the least amount of time among OECD countries on household chores. As a result, these and child-rearing are almost exclusively shouldered by women. At work, Korean women are struggling more as well. A survey in the Economist showed that Korea has one of the worst environments for working women, ranking last out of 29 OECD countries surveyed for its "glass-ceiling index." Korea has been last on this list every year since it was first published in 2013. This means that the country is consistently falling way behind other countries in women's access to higher education, their labor force participation, equal pay, representation in senior management and childcare. Also, Korea placed 115th out of 145 countries in its gender equality index in a World Economic Forum report.

Not only are these numbers unfitting for Korea's economic size and for a country that elected a female president, they also attest to an embarrassing failure of the Park Geun-hye administration's policies for aiding women and families. If anything, lives of working women have become harder since Park assumed office. More women shun having children because of rising costs and other burdens related to childcare, resulting in an unprecedented birthrate crisis. She arrived at Cheong Wa Dae with a pledge for "an era of people's happiness," but this will continue to be an empty slogan as long as Korean women remain as miserable as they are now. Therefore, policies to assist women to reach their full potential at work and make a happy home should be a national priority.

As Korea's first female president, one expects Park to do more for women. During a New Year briefing at Cheong Wae Dae, she said her administration aims to build a country that promotes the quality of women's lives by creating an environment where working women are able to raise children without excessive financial burdens and strains on their careers. The president needs to ask herself what her administration has done to realize this crucial objective. As a female president, we urge Park to show more passion to empower women and set an example for future female leaders.

Now is the time for a women-first shift in family policies. To make Korean families happier and stronger, it is vital for policymakers to respond to working women's needs. Policies to advance women's lives are not just good for them. They are good for families, the economy and ultimately, society. Most of the government's incentives for increasing the birthrate, for example, are centered on families with more than three children, when the reality is that most women shun having even two. Such discrepancies need to be addressed to assure women that the government will wholeheartedly support them to work and raise families at the same time. Also, policymakers in areas of employment, health care and family issues need to vigorously study and benchmark model countries in promoting gender equality at home and at work.
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