Anger in South Korea as advice to pregnant women highlights renewed pressure of old expectations

SEOUL, South Korea – The advice for pregnant women seems to be from a bygone era: make sure there is enough toilet paper in the house, prepare meals for your husband, don’t forget to take care of your appearance – possibly hang smaller ones Garments visible on areas will serve as motivation to lose weight?

The suggestions are not from a 1950s manual on how to be a good housewife. They were shared by the Seoul city government this month.

Guidelines based on outdated gender stereotypes were later deleted, but the controversy has revived the debate in South Korea about how women see society.

“I was angry with the government, but at the same time, for most of my life, I grew up in an environment where I thought I had no choice but to marry as a woman, and that was a sign of failure,” Shin said Set-byul, 23, a senior college woman who defines herself as a radical feminist.

A wireless sensor next to priority seats flashes with a pink light, signaling that a pregnant passenger is approaching or standing on a subway train in Busan, South Korea.Kwon Sung-hoon / AP file

An official with the Seoul Metropolitan Government said the city had republished the guidelines originally published by the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare in 2019 without adequately reviewing them.

Park Jin-kyung, professor of Korean studies and international studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, said the guidelines were a by-product of the industrialization era when “there was a clear division of labor within the family, with husband breadwinner and wife housewife. “

She said that women’s perceptions of marriage and motherhood shifted from traditional duties in the late 1980s and 1990s – particularly after the financial crisis in South Korea in 1997 and 1998.

“During this time of uncertainty, there was deep concern about jobs, housing, family breakdowns and unprepared retirements,” said Park. “After women saw how a social crisis affected their lives, they found that career goals were equal to or even more important than marriage.”

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From last year the Proportion of women in South Korea who are economically active has stagnated at around 50 percent – about 20 points lower as men.

And although the college admission rate for women was 7.9 percent higher than that of their male counterparts, according to statistics from 2019Progress in education has yet to be reflected in the labor market.

Women in South Korea earn 32.5 percent less than male employees. the worst gender pay gap among the countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In Japan, the penultimate country on the list, women make up 23.5 percent less than men, and in the US the gap is 18.5 percent according to the OECD.

“Everyone in our family does what they’re good at,” said Yoon Myung, 48, a mother of two who works in aromatherapy and counseling. “My husband fiddles with housework, but instead fixes all the equipment, which saves me a lot of energy. We don’t really think about it at all in the context of gender.”

South Korea’s rapidly aging population and declining birth rate have also pushed officials to encourage motherhood. Last year, for the first time, the country recorded more deaths than births his birth rate fell to 0.84 per woman, the lowest in the world.

In light of these trends, the Korean State Institute of Health and Welfare suggested in 2017 that well-educated, high-income women were too picky about their partners and that they “lower their standards. “

The government is too Offer cash incentives from approximately $ 919 for each pregnant woman and approximately $ 1,839 after childbirth.

“While the trend towards low birth rates continues, pro-natalist measures have sought to address the problem by attributing the cause of low birth rates to women and pressuring them to have a child,” said Sunhye Kim, one Professor specializing in procreation and childbirth at Ewha Women’s Studies Department at Womans University.

The public is increasingly pressing against such a policy, she said. After Seoul released pregnancy guidelines this month, an online petition was collected to the South Korean government demanding an apology more than 25,000 signatures.

Even so, Shin, the student, said that despite such demands for change, most feminists in her circle, including herself, must organize discreetly and use anonymous identities for their security.

“I’d say it’s still dangerous to openly call yourself a feminist in Korea today,” Shin said.

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