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For work-life balance, change in perception, not rules, required: author

All News 17:56 June 03, 2016

By Park Sojung

SEOUL, June 3 (Yonhap) -- To achieve work-life balance, South Korea should step up efforts to radically change the way working moms and stay-at-home dads are perceived in the country, a South Korean man who authored a book discussing his experience as the latter said Friday.

"I don't think it's entirely up to employers to create a family-friendly work environment," Ka Wook-hyeon said at Seoul Working Families Forum at Korea Federation of Banks in downtown Seoul. "It's not fair because strictly speaking, companies are driven by the bottom line. The government, therefore, should do more to ensure that neither employers nor families are receiving the shorter end of the stick."

Ka wrote the book, "The Real Face of Fathers' Child-rearing," which is currently only available in Korean. It details what it is like to live in South Korea as a "house husband," a still rare commodity in a society with stereotypical gender roles.

A software programmer of 16 years, Ka said he was denied parental leave at an IT company in 2014 even though employers are required to provide it.

He had asked for leave because his then six-year-old son was starting to experience strange symptoms concerning his eyes. Ka's wife, a bank employee, had already used her maternity leave, so the refusal by Ka's company meant that either Ka or his wife had to stop working to care for his son.

"I am extremely happy with my life right now," he stressed, adding that after looking after his son for the past 18 months, the worrisome symptoms have disappeared. He, however, said such gains have come at a price.

Ka pointed out that he was often the only man at parents' gatherings and he never got over the awkwardness he felt around other stay-at-home dads.

He also resented having to explain the distinction between an unemployed and a stay-at-home person, something many people did not seem to understand.

Ka also conceded that for men, the decision to become the primary caretaker of children is never an easy one.

"It is in our early to mid-30s that we tend to have children, and that period overlaps with the peak of our earning potential," he said. "Naturally, that dissuades men from wanting to quit work for his children."

The forum at Korea Federation Bank was hosted by the Women & Culture in Network.

Ka's talk was preceded by a speech by Michelle Outlaw, Director of Regional Public Diplomacy Outreach at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. Outlaw also spoke about her experience working in diplomacy, which she said was still dominated by men, and living with a house husband.

sojungpark@yna.co.kr
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