Gender Gap Index Rankings 2013 - South Korea

Part one of a multi-part series done on the ranking of Asian countries in the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Index Report 2013.

The Republic of Korea Overall Rank: 111th

What makes Korea’s overall ranking of 111 particularly surprising is that since 1996 when it joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), South Korea not only has been widely considered one of Asia’s most developed countries, but a major exporter of culture too.

According to the World Bank, The Republic of Korea has better school enrollment and life expectancy than OECD countries’ combined average. Sure enough, the World Bank’s figures are consistent with the WEF 2013 Gender Gap Index that found that Korean women have the highest literacy and healthy life expectancy rates in the world.

So then why did The Republic of Korea rank so poorly?

From looking at the 2013 Index, Korean women far less likely to participate economically (118th), have equal wages (120th), be enrolled in tertiary education (100th), and according to the report, Koreans birth ratio is one of the worst in the world at 119th overall.

Other statistics show that the average female employment rate is 52.4% which makes South Korea the seventh-lowest employment rate among OECD countries, with one of largest disparities between the average salaries of men and women. South Korea also has the infamous distinction of having the highest suicide rate in the developed world. Furthermore, in a country where competition to get high-paying jobs is fierce, women’s enrollment in primary (86th), secondary (82nd), and tertiary (108th) education certainly must improve before significant changes can take place.

When asked why she thought this was, Give2Asia’s program consultant in Korea, Kyung-In Choi  pointed out three things:

  1. South Korea’s rooted tradition, which strictly defines women’s role to rear children and maintain the household. This also influences women’s roles in workplaces to be supportive rather than proactive.
  2. Glass ceilings and male dominant culture in workplaces result in the scarcity of female managers and executives, which also explains the large salary gap between male and female workers.
  3. Insufficient social support systems (quantity and quality wise) to share the child rearing responsibility of working females which result in the career discontinuity and work limitations of female workers.

That being said, Choi also noted that she, “ (has) seen significant changes of working women’s standing over the past decade and expect the gender equality of younger generation will be higher than the average equality rate.”

Evidence of this is already been measured in the country’s capital of Seoul, which has seen a 10-fold increase of single-family homes over the last three decades.

“Moreover,” she continued, “I see the immediate and continuous needs of quality and low cost social support systems for child rearing which can provide sustainable working environment to the younger women who are qualified and ready to work but often give up career due to child rearing responsibilities.”

Choi suggested a handful of organizations that focus on women’s rights and equality issues:

  • Korea Foundation for Women ( Gender equality and other various activities for females and marginalized families.
  •  Women Link ( Various activities on gender issues and equality.
  • Korea Women’s Hotline ( Female abuses and equality.
  • Korea Women’s Association United ( various services and networking.
  • Seoul Foundation of Women and Families ( Female leadership development supports and other various researches, education, and networking.
  • Women’s Human Rights Commission of Korea ( Human right’s education and protection focusing on sex trafficking and assaults/abuses and family violence.
  • Ministry of Gender Equality and Family ( Government office.