|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
Chamber B, 801st & 802nd Meetings (AM & PM)
women’s anti-discrimination committee praises Republic of Korea’s progress,
while noting persistence of entrenched paternalistic male values
Expert members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today lauded Republic of Korea’s significant steps to advance women’s equality, while also noting such remaining challenges as entrenched paternalistic male values, persistent discrimination in the labour market, and the slow progress in promoting women to decision-making positions.
Reviewing the country’s fifth and sixth periodic reports on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in Chamber B today, the experts welcomed the strengthening of the country’s national machinery, particularly the establishment of the Ministry for Gender Equality and Family with a budget of $1.3 billion, as well as numerous legislative acts to promote gender equality.
Committee members were also pleased with the country’s ratification last year of the Optional Protocol to the Women’s Convention. They noted recent Civil Act amendments, which had paved the way towards the lifting of the country’s last remaining reservation to the Convention. On that matter, the Government delegation reported that the withdrawal of the reservation -- declared in connection with a child’s adoption of its mother’s family name -- was currently under consideration. The amendments to the Civil Act -– to become effective in January 2008 -– stipulated that the child must adopt the father’s surname, but could be given the mother’s surname, should the married couple reach agreement in that regard.
Introducing the country’s reports, Jang Ha-jin, Minister for Gender Equality and Family, said the last 10 years had yielded remarkable advances in women’s rights, “marking a time of fresh impetus for real change and achieving actual improvements in women’s rights”. Women’s participation had traditionally been low and, due to the remnants of the patriarchal society, women still did not play a full part in many fields, including politics. Therefore, the Government was implementing special measures to address discrimination against women and spur their participation in society. The Act on Elections for Public Offices had been amended to ensure women comprised 50 per cent of party candidates nominated for proportional representation in the National Assembly or local council elections. In addition, it had been recommended that more than 30 per cent of candidates nominated for regional assembly elections be women.
In that connection, an expert advocated wider use of special temporary measures for the advancement of women, asking why progress in increasing their number in parliamentary posts had been so slow. According to the report, there were only two female Ministers in the Government, and none in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Justice, both of which were very important for women’s empowerment.
Among other issues highlighted in the experts’ dialogue with the country’s high-level delegation were the impact of the Government’s gender equality policies, the country’s policies on prostitution, child-care facilities, women’s health, and the situation of immigrant women, as well as broker-arranged international marriages, the number of which had risen steeply in recent years.
Questions were also posed about the practice of “Wonjokyoje”, whereby adolescent girls engaged in a sexual relationship with older men in exchange for money. In that connection, members of the delegation said that, under the Act on Protection of Youth from Sexual Exploitation, information about some 6,000 sex offenders found guilty of engaging in sexual acts with minors had been posted on the Internet, sending a strong message in that regard.
Experts expressed serious concern regarding the feminization of poverty and the country’s irregular female employees, including part-time and temporary workers, who represented some 42.7 per cent of its 6.44 million female salaried workers. Such workers received lower pay and were denied regular staff benefits and job security. According to the delegation, the Government had adopted a comprehensive policy for public sector irregular workers, and the 2006 Act on Protection for Temporary and Part-Time Workers stipulated that an employee hired on a temporary basis for more than two years must be considered as having entered into a permanent contract.
The Committee will take up Norway’s seventh periodic report in Chamber B at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 1 August.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met in Chamber B this morning to take up the fifth and sixth periodic reports of the Republic of Korea (documents CEDAW/C/KOR/5 and CEDAW/C/KOR/6), which ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1984.
Headed by Jang Ha-jin, Minister for Gender Equality and Family, the country’s delegation also included: Cho Hyun, Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations; Kwon Yong-hyun, Director-General of the Women’s Empowerment Bureau, Ministry of Gender Equality and Family; Park En-na, Counsellor, Permanent Mission to the United Nations; Kang Sun-hye, Director, International Relations Office, Ministry of Gender Equality and Family; Cho Min-kyung, Director, Family Support Team, Ministry of Gender Equality and Family; Koh Han-sook, Deputy Director, International Relations Office, Ministry of Gender Equality and Family; Kang Byong-jo, First Secretary, Permanent Mission to the United Nations; Cho Hyung-hwa, Second Secretary, Human Rights and Social Affairs Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Hong Kwan-pyo, Deputy Director, Human Rights Policy Division, Ministry of Justice; Lee Ki-heum, Deputy Director, Immigration Planning Division, Ministry of Justice; Kim Young-me, International Labour Policy Team, Ministry of Labour; Park Young, Women Employment Team, Ministry of Labour; Shin Su-young, Deputy Director, Local Public Service Personnel Policy Team, Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs; Kwon Hyun, Deputy Director, Youth Sex Protection Team, Government Youth Commission; and Byun Wha-soon, Research Fellow, Korean Women’s Development Institute.
Introduction of Reports
Minister JANG, introducing the country’s reports, said the last 10 years had yielded remarkable advances in women’s rights, “marking a time of fresh impetus for real change and achieving actual improvements in women’s rights”. The abolition of the “family headship system” had cleared the way for withdrawal of reservations on article 16 (g) of the Convention. Furthermore, in accordance with article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 16 of the Women’s Convention and General Recommendation 21 of the Committee, the Government was pursuing an amendment of civil law to adjust the legal age for engagement and marriage to 18 years for both women and men.
She said that, since its establishment in 2001, the National Human Rights Commission had been clear on the prohibition of discrimination against women, defining discrimination based on gender as a form of “infringement of rights to equality”. Other actions for the advancement of women included revisions to the Equal Employment Act to prohibit indirect discrimination, and the Affirmative Action Plan to improve employment practices, focusing mainly on the Female Employment Target Policy.
The launch of the Ministry of Gender Equality as part of the Central Government in 2001 had marked a breakthrough in the promotion of women’s policies, she continued. Replacing the 41-member Presidential Commission on Women’s Affairs, the Ministry had been expanded into the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family in 2005, and seen its budget grow from $27.8 million to $1.3 billion. Government policies on women now encompassed a wider range of policy areas, and great progress had been achieved in laws and institutions. Under the 1998-2002 First Basic Plan for Women’s Policies, an Office of Women’s Policy had been established in six ministries, and various discriminatory laws, regulations and rules had been identified and revised.
She said the Second Basic Plan for Women’s Policies encompassed the period from 2003 to 2007. The Republic of Korea had now achieved the institutionalization of the Women’s Policy Coordination Committee under the Office of the Prime Minister. In addition, public officials at the level of Deputy Minister had been appointed in Central Government organizations as Senior Gender Policy Coordinators. An inter-ministerial system for the promotion of women’s policies was, therefore, in place. The Government had also launched the Korean Institute for Gender Equality Promotion and Education in 2003 and was developing a variety of educational programmes targeting various population groups. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family had been strengthening its cooperation with the private sector and women’s groups, including the Korean Women’s Conference and the National Women’s Conference.
Traditionally, the participation of women had been low and, due to the remnants of the patriarchal society, they still did not play a full part in many fields, including politics, she continued. Therefore, the Government was implementing special measures to address discrimination against women and spur their participation in society. The Act on Elections for Public Offices had been amended to ensure that 50 per cent of party candidates nominated for proportional representation in the National Assembly or local council elections, were women. In addition, it was recommended that more than 30 per cent of candidates nominated for regional assembly elections be women. As a result, the ratio of women representatives in the seventeenth National Assembly was 14.3 per cent, compared with 5.9 per cent in the sixteenth Assembly. The Government was also implementing the Women’s Participation Target Initiative for government committees, and planned to pursue the Women Managers Employment Target Initiative in the near future.
In 2000, she said, the Republic of Korea had abandoned the Military Service Credit System, which had been a major stumbling block for women seeking careers in public service. The Women’s Employment Initiative had led to a rise in the ratio of females in public service. In the area of education, the 2006 college enrolment rate for women had been 81.8 per cent, and the Government was implementing a plan to increase the number of female professors, principals and vice-principals. The Korean Air Force Academy had begun accepting women applicants in 1997.
Regarding violence against women, she said remarkable progress had been achieved in that area, and support centres for victims were operating in 14 hospitals nationwide. The criteria for the punishment of sexual crimes against teenagers had been strengthened with the recent amendment to the Act on Protection of Youth from Sexual Exploitation. The Children’s Support Centre for sexual assault cases had been set up to protect children under the age of 13 and mentally challenged children. Stricter punishment measures had been introduced for the procurement of prostitution, and the concept of victims of sex trafficking had been introduced. A comprehensive action plan to prevent prostitution had been launched in 2004. Female victims of prostitution had been exempted from punishment, and their debts to sex trafficking brokers invalidated. The past perception of violence against women as a private matter was changing.
She said Government efforts to promote employment of women included a five-year plan to develop women resources and the adoption of a policy of subsidizing continued employment after childbirth. The Government was also increasing child care subsidies, providing child-care services for infants and disabled children, and improving child-care services, in general. It was also seeking to move beyond the conventional job choices for women.
On family policy, she said the Government had introduced an Act on Healthy Families and was developing a universal and comprehensive family policy. Among other things, it had developed a Family Friendliness Index, an indicator to measure a company’s operation of family-friendly programmes. Recently, there had been a steep rise in international marriages, and the Government was seeking ways to provide support and protection for the rights of female immigrants in such marriages. Welfare policies were being pursued to improve the quality of life for rural women.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, lauded the Republic of Korea’s significant steps towards empowering women, including the withdrawal of its reservations and its changing of the Civil Code to pave the way for the lifting the remaining reservation. What was the time frame for removing that remaining reservation? He said he was also pleased with last year’s ratification of the Optional Protocol and noted that domestic courts should be able to interpret provisions of the Convention. Had the treaty been invoked in any cases, and how effective did the delegation feel the judiciary was in enforcing it?
Noting that the new National Human Rights Commission focused on gender and 18 other forms of discrimination, he asked how many gender-discrimination cases were submitted to it every year and whether it had a gender unit. Did its policies and decisions refer to the Convention, and were its decisions binding? Did it have a mandate over gender discrimination in the public and private spheres?
FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, asked if the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family coordinated the work of the 45 government units involved with gender issues. Did the other Government offices consult the Ministry on potential strategies and policies? Did the Ministry act as a secretariat for high-level meetings on gender? How did the Ministry coordinate with senior-level officials of the other units, and how often did they meet?
DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked the delegation to elaborate on the definition of discrimination contained in the 1987 Equal Employment Act, which covered indirect and direct discrimination. How was discrimination in other areas covered?
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, referring to measures to achieve gender-equality targets, asked whether sanctions were imposed when targets were not met. Had the Government conducted an assessment of how well targets were being met? Were efforts to change attitude towards women in politics and science also part of the Government’s strategies?
Ms. JANG said a child was given its father’s surname except when both parents agreed that it should have its mother’s surname. The correct figures for the budget of the National Human Rights Commission were not immediately available, but they could be obtained at a later date. The Commission employed 200 experts and was charged with matters concerning discrimination based on gender, race and disability and measures to counter it. Various forms of discrimination often overlapped, and it was better to have the Commission deal with all of them comprehensively.
She said she did not know how many cases the Commission dealt with, but there had been no decrease in the number reported. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family supervised all government units concerned with women and gender, but it did not set targets on its own. Inter-ministerial consultations were held to determine those targets, and an overall supervising committee met once or twice a year. Meetings were also held with government officials and representatives of non-governmental organizations, and there was a similar structure at the municipal government level. Local governments must submit an annual plan on women’s concerns, the targets of which were then publicized in the media.
The Equal Employment Act defined indirect and direct gender discrimination in the workplace, she said. However, it did not deal with discrimination in other areas. The Constitution and the National Human Rights Commission Act forbade gender discrimination in all its forms. The country had achieved its target of having women in 50 per cent of all representative seats in the National Assembly, and the target now was to set aside 30 per cent of all regional council seats for women. However, that target was merely a recommendation regarding which the Government and non-governmental organizations were preparing new legislation. There were also incentives for private companies to achieve gender equality. The rankings of company officials were made public through the national media.
Another member of the delegation added that the judiciary were fully informed about the Convention. The final findings of the Human Rights Commission did not have binding power, and the courts were the final resort in discrimination cases. Suits could be brought simultaneously before the Commission and the domestic courts. Discrimination was defined in the Constitution, and a specific act on the prevention of discrimination was currently under consideration.
RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, said the country had clearly undertaken many reforms and other efforts for the promotion of gender equality, but she sought clarification regarding the establishment of the Institute for Gender Equality and Education. It was her understanding that less than 1 per cent of government employees had signed up to its gender education programmes. Should they not be obligatory? Given that sexual harassment prevention guidelines had been issued for public institutions, had similar guidelines been prepared for the private sector? What was the exact language of the sexual harassment law?
DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, posed several questions about the country’s prostitution laws, asking whether the Government researched the factors that pushed women into prostitution. Almost four years after the law on prostitution had come into effect, had its impact been evaluated? She also asked about arranged marriages, noting that their number seemed to be increasing, especially at the international level. What was being done to protect immigrant women who entered into those marriages?
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, asked whether measures to combat prostitution were gender-neutral, targeting both men and women, and who could be prosecuted under the anti-prostitution laws. Over 33,000 women had been charged under the law, but how many men had been prosecuted? He also questioned the fact that anti-prostitution laws distinguished between victims of forced prostitution and voluntary prostitutes, with the burden of proof placed on the women themselves.
He also asked about the practice of “Wonjokyoje” -- whereby adolescent girls engaged in a sexual relationship with older men for money – asking, in particular, whether sanctions were imposed on those who abused adolescent girls.
Ms. JANG said the Institute for Gender Equality Promotion and Education had been established in 2003 and to date more than 5,000 people had undergone training. That number was expected to grow significantly as the Institute continued its activities, and all public officers should undergo training.
On sexual harassment, she said all public and government-affiliated institutions had to submit reports on their efforts to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. However, while the country had achieved the sexual harassment targets in terms of quantity, there was room for improvement in terms of quality.
Turning to prostitution, she said special legislation had been enacted in 2004 to strengthen punishment for the procurement of prostitution. In prosecuting prostitutes, the authorities relied on their statements as to whether they were voluntarily involved or not. Year-end evaluations of support for rehabilitation were carried out on an annual basis.
As for trafficking for international marriages, she said there had been a recent rise in the number of such marriages, and in most cases the women entered the country through brokers. The Government was drafting a law to mandate the provision of accurate provision by brokers. Commitments had also been made to invite ministers from neighbouring countries to discuss the issue, in addition to measures against violence in multicultural marriages. Through existing programmes, women could receive language training, get information about jobs and receive family counselling. There was also a multilingual hotline for immigrant women.
Another delegate added that the Act on the Punishment for Procuring Prostitution and the Act on the Prevention of Prostitution and Protection of Victims related to both men and women. Key elements of those Acts included stricter punishment against procurers and protection and services for women victimized by prostitution. As for indictments under those Acts, procurers or brokers were the ones indicted in most cases. In the investigation process, women were treated as victims unless they said their involvement was voluntary. As for male prostitutes, they were treated similarly to women. First-time procurement offenders were not indicted, provided they received counselling.
Regarding “Wonjokyoje”, he said that, under the Act on Protection of Youth from Sexual Exploitation, personal identification information was disclosed about sex offenders engaged in sexual acts with young girls. That sent a strong message to the offenders. To date, such information had been posted on websites carrying information on about 6,000 persons. As for the degree of punishment, that depended on the severity of the offence. Depending on the judge, offenders were sentenced from three to four years in jail. To address that fluctuation, the Government was now working to determine sentencing criteria.
In a round of follow-up questions, several experts thanked the delegation for the answers provided and posed several additional queries to the delegation.
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, asked whether he had correctly understood the new Civil Code to have paved the way to the withdrawal, by 2008, of the reservation to article 16 (g) of the Convention. He also sought concrete information on references to the Convention by domestic courts, asking whether the Human Rights Commission assisted complainants in taking their cases before the court, should the Government disagree with the Commission’s recommendations. How realistic was it for complainants to take their cases to court, given the great expense involved? Was legal aid provided? Did article 11 of the Constitution prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, as defined under the Convention?
XIAOQIAO ZOU, expert from China, asked about the staffing and functioning of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which had a very impressive budget. What measures had the Government undertaken to eliminate negative cultural stereotypes and the division of labour within the family?
Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, sought further clarifications on sexual harassment, commenting that following the transfer of responsibility for those cases from the Gender Ministry to the Human Rights Commission, there had been complaints about their slow handling and the low rate at which the Commission issued corrective recommendations.
Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked whether the Government intended to regulate the activities of marriage brokers. Given that voluntary prostitution was treated differently from involuntary prostitution, according to the report, had the Government conducted research into the motivating factors for prostitution?
Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked how women gained access to justice at all levels and when application of the Optional Protocol had last been available to complainants. Did the Government of the Republic of Korea intend to ratify the Protocol against human trafficking?
She recalled that the Government had informed the Committee that the age for marriage would be set at 18 for both men and women, but it remained at 16 for women and 18 for men. Could 16-year-old or 17-year-old women be brought into the country to be married under the existing legislation? That was not in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Women’s Convention.
Ms. JANG said the Civil Code had been revised in 2005 and the changes would take effect in January. The National Human Rights Commission had an overarching mandate, and its decisions had a profound political impact, but no direct legally binding power. The budget of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family was $1.5 billion, all of which was spent on gender issues.
Regarding measures to combat gender stereotypes, she said the Seventh National Education Curriculum had removed stereotypical portrayals of women and men from student textbooks, but older teachers had set views on gender roles. The younger generation had a better perspective on gender equality. There was no clear legal stipulation on sexual harassment by clients. A business owner was responsible for any sexual harassment that took place in his office. Regarding marriage brokers, the National Assembly was preparing legislation to control this practice.
On prostitution, she said most women were drawn to it for economic reasons. Absolute poverty had been eliminated, but relative poverty persisted and prostitution paid much more than low-wage jobs. The average age of marriage had increased to 26 years for women and 28 years for men, and there were very few cases of people marrying at ages 16, 17 or 18.
Regarding withdrawal of the reservation to article 16 (g) of the Convention, another delegate said the meaning of the family name in the Republic of Korea was different than in Western cultures. It was applied differently. The Ministry of Justice was reviewing that issue. He did not have readily available the number of court cases in which the Convention had been invoked. Concerning action taken if a decision of the National Human Rights Commission was not honoured, he said the law allowed individuals to bring cases to court themselves and to apply for free legal aid to do so. Regarding violations of articles 8, 9 and 10 of the Convention, one could seek damages from the Constitutional Court.
MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, asked about measures to increase women’s participation in Parliament and political life, noting that progress was very slow. What awareness-raising measures were undertaken at the community level?
Ms. ZOU, expert from China, asked about measures to increase women’s participation in senior-level civil service positions, pointing out that there was much room for progress in that regard. What obstacles prevented the elevation of women in political and economic life?
MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, asked why progress in increasing the number of women in Parliament was so slow. According to the report, there were only two women ministers in the country and none in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Justice, both of which were very important for women’s empowerment. Why were there no women holding positions in the courts, including the family courts?
A delegate said the target was for women to account for 50 per cent of all local council seats, but the number of women candidates in local councils was low. The Government was considering amendments to the electoral law so as to change the percentage to 54 in both national and local councils.
In 2003, women had accounted for 12 per cent of local council posts and 50 per cent of local assembly posts, she said. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family allocated a budget for leadership training and educational programmes for women’s political participation, but their participation in public office remained low. There were few women in managerial and high-level positions, but their numbers were growing among the ranks of diplomatic and civil service personnel, thanks to women’s ability to take diplomatic service, bar and civil service exams. Seventy per cent of women taking the diplomatic service exam had passed, as had 30 per cent of those taking the bar exam. In 10 years, it was expected that women recently admitted to the civil service and the field of law would reach high-level managerial positions.
The current target in public service was to fill 10 per cent of all high-level posts with women by 2010, as compared with the current 9 per cent, which made the 2010 target realistic and feasible, she said. The Republic of Korea ranked low in United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) gender empowerment measures, which concerned women’s economic status, but the Government was taking steps to rectify that situation.
She said the country’s female Prime Minister had recently resigned to run for the Presidency in the December election. Women were represented in the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court. Last year, the President had tried to appoint a female head of the Constitutional Court, but the opposition party had blocked the appointment. Eleven per cent of all prosecutors were women and 8 per cent of judges were women. The percentage of women lawyers in the country was rising.
Ms. ZOU, expert from China, asked who monitored implementation of the requirement that political parties earmark a percentage of funds for women’s participation. What educational or training courses were available for women who did not belong to political parties?
Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, urged the Republic of Korea to apply all the provisions of the Convention without delay.
Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked if the Government planned to revise the current target of 10 per cent of women in high-level public administration posts by 2010, noting that the target date was not far off. More proactive measures were needed.
A delegate said political parties were required to earmark 10 per cent of their regular budget on training and activities for women politicians, and to disclose that expenditure to the public. Non-governmental organization monitored compliance and, according to some of their recent reports, political parties were in fact complying with the requirement, though there was room for improvement.
Regarding assistance for women who were not members of political parties, she said the Women Voters Federation and the United Women’s Association conducted similar courses, for which the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family gave non-governmental organization a budget.
She said all government entities -- including ministries, the national assembly and other offices -- were involved in making new laws. New domestic legislation was scrutinized to determine where it clashed with the Convention, and in such cases it was revised in line with the Convention. The Civil Code had been revised so that the Convention could be applied in the courts. More and more women were passing entrance exams for public office, and the Government planned to raise the target figure for women in public office, a change that would be reflected in the Third Basic Plan
Ms. ZOU, expert from China, opened the next round of questions, on education, expressing concern over the selection of subjects by female students, especially in professional schools and higher education institutions. Those choices were influenced by tradition, but the availability of jobs was also a factor. While much had been done to address that matter, further measures were needed. What plans did the Government have in that regard, and what was being done to promote women to decision-making positions in the education field? Did government scholarship and financial assistance programmes to low-income families include special programmes for female students?
A member of the delegation said the Government, through its “Women into Science and Engineering” programme, was trying to increase the number of female students choosing studies in those fields, and it also had mentoring programmes in place. In primary and secondary schools, the number of female teachers was high, but the goal was to increase the number of female principals and vice-principals to 20 per cent by 2010. With women accounting for a large portion of top-scoring students, they formed the majority of those receiving scholarships.
Turning to the employment field, several experts recalled that during the Committee’s consideration of the country’s reports nine years ago, members had raised a number of concerns regarding discrimination against women in the labour market, the wage gap, and the predominance of women in part-time and temporary work. While some advances had been made through the Government’s Comprehensive Plan for the Development of Women Resources, the amended Equal Employment Act and other female employment expansion measures, documents before the Committee and communications from non-governmental organization indicated that significant discrimination persisted in the area of women’s work.
Ms. AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, asked about the number of women involved in part-time and temporary work. The Government had reported some measures to improve the employment situation of irregular workers, including through the 2006 Act on Protection of Temporary and Part-time Workers. Did those efforts include women in the private sector, and what was their impact in creating a family-friendly environment in the workplace and developing home and child-care services to facilitate women’s participation in the labour market?
SHANTI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, commented on the slow rate of progress in implementing the measures to improve their situation, asking whether there were plans to fast-track efforts to close the gaps in the area of employment and enforce existing legislation. In a recent case, a company had forced out several hundred female workers due to outsourcing, and their protests had been suppressed by police. What was being done to address those workers’ concerns? As a big investor in other countries, did the Republic of Korea provide any ethical guidance to its companies operating abroad?
Ms. SAIGA, expert from Japan, also asked about the impact of new employment laws and policies, and measures to ensure compliance with them by the private and public sectors. Given efforts to reconcile women’s work and family life, and the recent introduction of 60 days paid maternity leave, with an opportunity to take an additional 30 days of unpaid leave, did the country offer paternity leave, as well?
Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said the Government’s frank reports and communications from non-governmental organizations showed that temporary women workers represented some 67.7 per cent of the total number, thus missing out on benefits and job security. They also faced discrimination in recruitment, with men getting preference for full-time jobs. Women’s average salaries amounted to about two thirds those of men.
A member of the delegation said the Government was committed to helping female workers who did not hold permanent jobs. Forty-two per cent of the population was employed in temporary jobs, and only 28 per cent of temporarily employed female workers belonged to health-insurance programmes. More aggressive employment policies were needed to help unemployed female heads of households. Under the Act on Protection for Temporary and Part-Time Workers, which had taken effect in July, temporary workers holding a post longer than two years must be given a permanent job, and the Government was converting all temporary workers to permanent status.
The delegate said companies often had discriminatory wage structures for women and men, and the Government was trying to change that through specific, non-arbitrary targets drawn up following discussions with various ministries. The Government used tax incentives to achieve targets and praised, through public media campaigns, those companies that had achieved those targets. The Government provided paid maternity leave of 90 days and child-care leave was one year. The country had a 40-hour, five-day work week, but people often worked longer hours, leading to a low birth rate. The Government was trying to pass a revised Equal Employment Act to enable people to balance family and work life.
Another delegate said the question of temporary work was hotly contested. The Republic of Korea had signed the International Labour Organization (ILO) 111 Convention, and after much debate the law had finally been passed. Child-care leave was available for men and women, but only women tended to take it. A total of 617 large companies had affirmative action programmes, but smaller companies were expected to follow suit.
Regarding the KTX incident, most of that firm’s core employees were women, she said, adding that about 50 of its new recruits had wanted the parent company to hire them rather than the new subsidiary, wherein lay much of the dispute. Regarding E-land, that company was outsourcing cashiers to a third party, and most of cashiers were housewives working from three to 22 months. The company had said people employed for more than 18 months would be given permanent jobs, and those employed for more than three months could be considered for permanent employment. There had been much progress in those negotiations, but some workers who had signed up for three months were demanding regular jobs. Hopefully, the process would be resolved soon and legally.
Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, said that, although the country’s life expectancy was high and maternal mortality rates low, there were a few areas of concern in terms of women’s health. Women were depended on other family members for medical insurance, and there might be elements of discrimination in that regard. It was also puzzling that, despite increasing contraceptive prevalence, abortion rates were still high. Could that be attributable to sex-selective abortions? Regarding sexual harassment as a health issue and the use of female eggs for medical research, were ethical regulations in place regarding those practices?
Ms. SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, also commented on the relatively high abortion rate in the country, noting that induced abortions were widespread, despite being criminalized. She recalled the Committee’s recommendation that the country decriminalize abortion and remove punitive measures for it. According to some reports, there was insufficient protection of women undergoing medically assisted procreation. What procedures were available in that regard?
ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, asked how the implementation of programmes for rural women had been evaluated. Due to the family-owned nature of rural properties, it was largely men who benefited from the Government’s agricultural initiatives. What was being done to allow women to benefit, as well, and what was being done to ensure they were not neglected in terms of the distribution of benefits? She also asked about 27 women’s farming centres established since 2004. How many women had benefited from the Government’s farming initiatives?
Ms. JANG said the national health insurance system was family-based. If the husband or wife was employed, their family was covered. Some people also subscribed to regional insurance plans, under which women were covered as dependents of the original subscriber.
Regarding the extraction of eggs for research, she said that, in principle, human eggs could not be extracted except for limited research purposes, including those relating to human diseases that were difficult to cure.
Family-related service and assistance was provided to the rural population, which had decreased drastically in recent years, she said. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry had an officer in charge of rural women, and many of its female members were active in various ministry committees. In 2006, some 4,000 women had received agricultural training.
On abortions, another member of the delegation said the rate was slowly declining, but it remained relatively high. In the 20-25 and 25-29 age groups, abortion rates were not related to the sex of the foetus. Young women preferred to have abortions when they were not ready for motherhood or marriage. It was still not socially acceptable for single women to have children, and the Penal Code prohibited abortions, although with several exceptions. It was not the women who were punished for abortion, rather the doctors who performed them. Sex education and efforts to create a social environment conducive to motherhood were important in addressing that issue.
She said the extraction of ova could be performed only by research entities with special permits. Special guidelines were being prepared on the number of embryos to be used in fertility treatment, in vitro fertilization or other research. Those activities were overseen by a special Act, and the women involved had to give their informed consent.
Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, asked the delegation to elaborate on whether the protection provided by the Equal Opportunities Act and the National Human Rights Commission Act against employers who tried to recruit women on temporary contracts only. In the case of E-Land, dismissed women workers whose jobs had then been outsourced had tried to take over their place of employment only to be arrested. Did that mean E-Land could get away with just dismissing women and outsourcing their jobs? If that was the case, was there need to rectify the law, or could the company be sanctioned for dismissing those women? What actions had the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family taken to help those female workers struggling for their rights?
Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, asked if domestic violence was a problem in rural areas.
Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, asked whether there were unions in the country and if they took into account the actions of workers. Did they carry a lot of weight, and were they affiliated with international labour? Could one openly talk about discrimination in the media, and had the Broadcasting Act been implemented?
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, noted that 21 per cent of female heads of household lived in poverty, three times the number of their male counterparts. The poverty gap between women and men had expanded in recent years, and the feminization of poverty must be addressed comprehensively through millennium development plans.
Ms. JANG said temporary employment was not a problem in itself, noting that the practice, among both men and women, was rising worldwide due to the advent of computers. The problem was that temporary workers should receive the same wage and insurance benefits and protections as permanent workers. Converting all temporary jobs to permanent status would be difficult. The Act on Protection for Temporary and Part-time Workers took effect 1 July.
Turning to the E-Land situation, she said negotiations were underway between the company and the employees and both sides should compromise and reach a mutually beneficial agreement. The Government did not wish to take any measures until negotiations had ended. The Policy for Continued Employment after Childbirth and other Acts stipulated that companies should open more child-care centres and set up family counselling and leave systems to care for family members. The Government could not force companies to do so, but it could provide tax and other incentives to persuade them to implement such measures.
Concerning labour unions, she said only 10 per cent of the workforce was unionized, and many people believed labour unions were too “hard line”. However, that was changing, and unions were now more open to working with temporary workers. As for a press conference on the Committee session, she said she had held a press briefing before coming to New York and planned on holding another upon her return on Wednesday. The Broadcasting Act had been enacted a few years ago and was still effective. It stipulated that broadcast programmes should depict both genders equally. On Korean women who had fled the country, she said about 10,000 had done so. The Government provided residential housing subsidies for them and continued to support them.
She said the Government had focused exclusively on economic development in the past, but it was now implementing policies to create a more balanced society in terms of work, family life and income. Poor women were in need of jobs, and the Government’s five-year plan aimed to improve the quality of life for rural women. However, patriarchal attitudes still prevailed in rural areas, making women’s empowerment difficult.
Another delegate noted that few women held decision-making positions, and there was little available data on rural women in that regard. Under the second stage of the five-year plan, the Government gave more women the right to own farmland and promoted the use of rural household management agreements. As for domestic violence in rural areas, it did exist, and the Government provided a telephone hotline and shelters for victims.
Another delegate said irregular work was seen all over the world and rather than ban the practice, it was important to regulate it, ensuring both flexibility and protection for workers.
As for the E-Land employees, she clarified that they had not been fired, but their contracts had expired. Thus, the Government had no authority to enforce their reinstatement. The police intervention during their protest had been unavoidable because the workers had commandeered the premise and caused significant damage.
Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, expressed concern about the Healthy Family Act, which she called a “judgmental piece of legislation”, striving to maintain the traditional type of family at the exclusion of cohabiting and same-sex couples. What was the objective of the Act?
Noting that marital rape was still not prohibited under the law, she said the reports provided little information on domestic violence. Regarding family names, the provisions of the revised Civil Act were still discriminatory because they only provided for a child getting its mother’s name when both parents agreed to that.
Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, asked about the status of new family legislation and whether a study of the causes of family break-ups had been undertaken in the country. Who got custody of the children in cases of divorce, and how was the property divided? How many de facto unions were there, and were they protected under the law? Were pre-nuptial agreements recognized? She also asked about the proposed amendments to the National Pension Plan.
Ms. JANG replied that the Act on Healthy Family was the first to focus on family issues, and by 2010, all regional governments were supposed to open family centres under it. As for the Act’s name, non-governmental organizations had raised concerns about the words “healthy family”, and a decision had been made to change the title name to “family act”. All kinds of families would be protected under the new legislation.
Regarding child care, she said the Government’s efforts were based on 1988 legislation. Substantial progress had been made recently and low-income families had been exempted from many fees. Soon, middle-class families would also benefit from such exemptions. In cases of divorce, the courts could grant custody to the spouse who had a greater capacity to look after the children. As for the division of property after divorce, it was divided “50/50”. Partners in de facto marriages were treated the same as spouses in legal marriages, but they received only limited pension and other benefits.
To a question about prohibition of marriage between people with the same surname and the same clan origin, she said that had been banned.
On domestic violence, another delegation member said that some four or five years ago, the Government had debated whether to acknowledge marital rape as an offence but culturally, it was not easily regarded as an offence. Thus, public opinion differed from the views of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.
He also provided figures relating to domestic violence indictments, saying that under the legal system, female victims of violence often just left their spouses and families. However, if there was a legal judgement that the husband was the offender, the wife could stay and her husband had to leave. Support and rehabilitation services were provided to victims of violence. Migrant women who suffered violence had access to a specialized hotline, and to centres that could provide assistance to them.
* *** *For information media • not an official record