Thursday, November 26, 2009

Women and Industrialization in Korea

Korea is experiencing the remarkable economic growth, tiny but densely populated country with no mineral reserves and excessively heavy military burden and it has recorded one of the highest rates of economic growth country in the world. Since the independent in 1945, South Korea has evolved from a state of poverty to a model case of the newly industrializing countries in the world.
Having the spectacular economic development and rapid modernization been accompanied by substantial progress in women's status in South Korea? This study will advance the thesis that, in spite of South Korean women's significant contribution to the export-led economic growth of the country, a reward commensurate with their contribution has not followed. In advancing this thesis, the paper will examine the major theoretical frameworks on women and development, women's role in South Korean economic development, the status of South Korean women in the economic, social, and political arenas, and a series of factors that help account for the backwardness of South Korean women.

Women and Industrialization: Theoretical Frameworks Studies of women and development disagree on the specific impact of development on women's status in society. Here I can employ the modernization perspective, the liberal feminist perspective, the dependency perspective, and the socialist feminist perspective. The first two are drawn from the western liberal point of view, and the last two emerged from the Marxist point of view. The modernization perspective predicts that the modernization process will remove traditional constraints on women and change the traditional sexual division of labour, thereby fostering the liberation of women.' As industrialization develop modern values and attitudes such as "achievement orientation”, "mobile personality”, and egalitarianism are diffused and undermine the patriarchy of the traditional society. As Inkeles and Smith observe, the forces of modernization would "act on men's attitudes, and incline them to accord to women status and rights more nearly equal to those enjoyed by men. Economic modernization diffuses not only modern values but capital and technology as well. Women gain increased access to economic resources and modern labour markets and acquire productive skills, thereby enhancing their opportunities and independence. Women who work in the public sphere can improve their position vis-a-vis males both in the home and in society by undermining the material bases of the male hierarchy. Those who stay at home can also benefit from overall economic development and improved living conditions and adoption of modern values. In the process of development, women are to be liberated from the oppressive traditional patriarchy. The positive effect of modernization on women, viewed in this perspective, is stated as follows. Industrialization encourages new attitudes and behaviour and stresses experiences women have in industrial society which enhance their competence and feelings of self-respect, and alter their relationships with others-particularly family members. Everyday experiences sharpen their faculties and sensitize them to the importance of competence and achievement. The opportunities for employment outside the home enrich them intellectually as well as financially. The liberal feminist perspective attacks the modernization view, contending that development has not improved women's status but rather has an adverse impact on women, reinforcing traditional patriarchy or eroding whatever power and authority they had in the traditional society. Since the 1970s, many studies from this perspective have documented empirically that the processes of economic modernization marginalized women economically and socially and increased their dependence on men. Ester Boserup's study, Women's Role in Economic Development, pioneered this perspective by demonstrating the negative effects on women of western colonial penetration into subsistence economies. Europeans with the western belief that farming was men's job imposed the western pattern of privately owned male farming systems producing cash crops on the communally held subsistence economies of female farming systems. Women often lost their access to land and were displaced from agriculture due to land reforms introduced by European administrators. Boserup argued that the introduction of modern technology, cash crops, and wage jobs benefited men rather than women, as they were often made available only to men. Women were relegated to the rural subsistence sector, using less productive traditional methods of cultivation. In subsistence economies, women were integral to household production and had stable access to economic resources and some decision-making power in the household.' The process of development, however, challenged the reciprocal and more sexually equal division of labour. Development planners with western stereotypes of roles for women reinforced the process of female marginalization by making services, training, credit, new seeds, tools, and new technology available only to men even in the female-centred subsistence economies. As a result, men have access to the more productive and better jobs while women who lack skills, education, and capital are relegated to the least productive sector of the economy. Evelyne Sullerot observed that it is in the "early periods of each civilization" that the least gender difference exists. "As a civilization asserts and refines itself, the gap between the relative status of men and women widens." Development requires functional specialization for efficiency and increased productivity. Liberal feminists argue that women lost their status during development because women lacked opportunities for acquisition of new skills necessary for functional specialization.
In addition to low wages, South Korean women work more hours than men. In 1983, among the seventeen countries for which data were available, South Korea was the only nation where women worked longer hours than men. Women worked an average of 53.7 hours per week while men averaged 51.7.46 Between 1975 and 1983, moreover, male workers' working hours increased 6.1 percent, while women's jumped by 9.6 percent.47 Women's working hours were not only longer than men's, but also increased at a more rapid rate. In 1988, South Korea was still the only nation where women's working hours were longer than men's among the fifteen countries that released data to the International Labour Office. Throughout the 1980s, South Korean women worked more hours than men, except in 1989 when both men and women worked 49.2 hours per week. In manufacturing, women worked for an average of 245 hours per month in 1984, four hours more than men.48 Women worked for an average of 9.7 hours a day, which exceeds the legal eight-hour day, compared to nine hours for men. Although the discrepancy decreased in 1989, the same pattern continued.49

Women's economic equality has yet to be achieved in South Korea. Some even point to sex discrimination as the "catalyst" of the rapid industrialization of South Korea. Sex discrimination provides industries with cheap labour, and thus their superior competitive position in the international economic system. It is ironic that discriminatory measures contributed to the country's rapid economic growth and, in turn, growth itself deepened discrimination.

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