Women in Republic of Korea Enjoy ‘Considerably Advanced Degree of Freedom, Rights Across All Sectors — Economy, Politics, Culture’, Expert Committee Told

19 July 2011

Women in Republic of Korea Enjoy ‘Considerably Advanced Degree of Freedom, Rights Across All Sectors — Economy, Politics, Culture’, Expert Committee Told

19 July 2011
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Elimination of

 Discrimination against Women

987th & 988th Meetings* (AM & PM)

Women in Republic of Korea Enjoy ‘Considerably Advanced Degree of Freedom, Rights

Across All Sectors — Economy, Politics, Culture’, Expert Committee Told


Still, Korean Women Face Obstacles, Patriarchal Attitudes,

Delegation Admits, as It Presents Seventh Report to Anti-Discrimination Committee

The progress of a general law against gender discrimination, the adequacy of programmes meant to address the low participation of women in elected positions and the vulnerability of divorced migrant women were discussed today by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, as it took up the Republic of Korea’s seventh periodic report.

Introducing the report, Hee Young Paik, Minister of Gender Equality and Family of the Republic of Korea and head of the Republic of Korea delegation, said that since ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1984, the country had achieved continuous progress in the area and in raising the status of women, who today enjoyed “a considerably advanced degree of freedom and rights across all sectors of society, economy, politics and culture”.  Despite that progress, women still faced many obstacles, owing to patriarchal attitudes, deep structural issues and emerging problems. 

Outlining progress that had been made since the presentation of the sixth report in 2007, she said that the Ministry of Gender Equality had expanded into the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, enhancing its role as the country’s central body to oversee all policies for women, youth and families, backed by an enlarged organization and budget.  Gender mainstreaming was embedded across all other Government agencies as well.  Time-bound plans were under way to increase women’s representation in public administration, in the security sector, in science and technology and higher education, as well as to assist the careers of women in the private sector and aid rural and other underprivileged women.

She also described diverse policies to promote gender equality in the Korean family, which she described as traditionally patriarchal, as well as to aid various kinds of multicultural families.  She stressed, finally, that the recommendations of the women’s Committee had been a strong driving force behind the Government’s actions to tackle gender discrimination. 

Following Ms. Paik’s presentation, Committee experts commended the 22-member delegation, led entirely by women, on their country’s detailed report and extensive action on gender equity, but pointed to policy areas where more could be done.  Many asked about developments on a previous Committee recommendation concerning the introduction of general anti-discrimination legislation in the country, which, the delegation replied, had been submitted to the legislature but, as elections had been required, the session had ended before the legislation was adopted.  The process was being pursued, they affirmed.

As some 10 per cent of marriages in the country were international, concern also was expressed over the plight of migrant wives who became divorced from their husbands.  The delegation explained that in cases in which the woman was not at fault they were eligible for naturalization and that, in cases of domestic violence and other problems, they were assisted.  Policies were being developed to deal with difficulties in that context, including cases of non-support from the ex-husbands.  The experts welcomed that information, but questioned the role of “fault” in the process. 

In regard to addressing the low percentage of women in elected office, which amounted to only 13 per cent, a delegate said that the Government realized that an increase was needed, but current conditions constrained the Government from significantly improving that situation just now.  The Government was doing what it could, however, to increase the pool of women candidates, through, for example, a website to identify them.

Among other concerns expressed by experts was the high proportion of women who worked at non-regular employment.  The delegation replied that gaps in regular employment opportunities between men and women existed, but the employment policy aimed at providing a wide variety of opportunities for women, including part-time employment, might suit some of them better.  It noted that the Republic of Korea had the longest average working hours of countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  Both women and men were having problems working long working hours and taking care of their families.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 20 July, to consider the latest report of Nepal.


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to consider the seventh periodic report of the Republic of Korea (document CEDAW/C/KOR/7).

Leading the Korean delegation was Hee Young Paik, Minister for Gender, Equality and Family, who was joined, from the Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations, by Sook Kim, Permanent Representative, and Dong-ik Shin, Soo-gwon Kim, Hyung-hwa Cho, and Hyun Ah Lee.

The delegation also included, from the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, Jin Woo Cho, Director General, Women’s and Youth Rights Promotion Bureau; Sun Hye Kang, Director, Rights Policy Division; Aelee Shon, Director, International Cooperation Division; and Hye Min Choi, Deputy Director of the International Cooperation Division.

Also:  Hyuni Hwang, Second Secretary, Human Rights and Social Affairs Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Eun Young Hwang, Director, Women and Children’s Policy Team, Ministry of Justice; and, from the Ministry of Employment and Labour, Kyung Sun Cho, Deputy Director, International Labour Affairs Division,; and Yong-Beom Shin, Assistant Director, Women’s Employment Policy Division.

Joining them were In-il Lee, Science Counselor, Embassy of the Republic of Korea to the United States; and, from the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, Eun Lee, Deputy Director, Balanced Personnel and Information Management Division; and Sunghan Kim, Deputy Director, International Administration Development Centre; as well as Okgeun No, Deputy Director, Division of Oral and Family Health, Ministry of Health and Welfare.

Several advisors also joined the delegation, among them:  Younghee Choi, Kum Lae Kim, Insoon Cha, Junsung Yeo, and Sooyeon Lee.

Introduction of Report

HEE YOUNG PAIK, Minister of Gender Equality and Family of the Republic of Korea, said that since ratifying the Convention in 1984, Korea had achieved continuous progress in eliminating gender-based discrimination and raising the status of women, who today enjoyed “a considerably advanced degree of freedom and rights across all sectors of society, economy, politics and culture”.  Despite such progress, however, women still faced obstacles in securing fundamental human rights and encountered new challenges.  Consequently, action had been taken after the consideration of each periodic report. 

In March 2010, she said, the Ministry of Gender Equality expanded into the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, enhancing its role as the country’s central body to oversee all policies for women, youth and families, backed by an enlarged organization and budget.  Gender mainstreaming was embedded across all other Government agencies as well, with gender impact assessments applied to 2,400 programmes at all levels and budgetary adjustments made as a result.  The “ Women-friendly City Project”, in addition, coordinated gender equality efforts in localities.  A full revision of the Women’s Development Act had been completed and was being considered in the National Assembly, and included the establishment of a Committee on the Status of Women co-chaired by the Prime Minister, which would manage the Gender-Equality Index and women-friendly cities programmes.

Five-year plans were under way to increase women’s representation in public administration at the central and local levels, she said.  In addition, a military reform plan set a goal to expand the proportion of women among high-ranking officers to 7.7 per cent and among non-commissioned officers to 5.5 per cent by the year 2020, with accompanying training programmes.  Programmes to increase the number of women in science and technology fields included the dissemination of employment information, promotion of networking and other policies.  A target of a minimum of 20 per cent women in national strategic research and development programmes had also been set.  In education, programmes were in place to promote women as managers.  In all those areas, she said, the Government would remain committed to increasing women’s participation.

Unfortunately, violence against women persisted, she said.  To counter that, institutional infrastructure was being established, for which “remarkable progress” had been made in recent years.  The Comprehensive Plan to Prevent Domestic Violence, announced in 2011, focused on strengthening initial response to cases of violence and better protecting victims.  Under an act revised at the end of June, judicial police officers were given the power to take temporary emergency measures, and other improvements and mechanisms were introduced to enable a victim to independently request direct protection, in addition to criminal proceedings.  Legislation against sexual violence was strengthened, with offenders identified publicly and subjected to more stringent punishment.  Measures to prevent human trafficking under the guise of international marriages had also been strengthened.

The Government, she said, offered specialized aid for underprivileged women, including single mothers, rural women and those with disabilities, through centralized agencies that extended into localities.  A five-year programme for the development of women farmers and fishers also had just begun.  To remove elements of gender inequality in employment, approximately 1,500 businesses were analyzed every year, and enterprises that failed to meet female employment standards were provided guidance on affirmative action.  Five-year plans were also in place to maximize women’s career development throughout their lives, and core infrastructure had been put in place to support the re-entry into the workplace of women whose careers had been interrupted.  Government support of the total cost of child care had expanded to all children up to age four in the lower 70 per cent of incomes and up to age five of all multicultural families.

The child-care leave system was also reaching out to more parents with eased eligibility requirements, she noted.  Promoting work and family balance remained a priority, with the introduction by the Government of a part-time and flexible working-hours system and encouragement of those systems in the private sector.  In Korean society, however, which she called highly work-oriented, she acknowledged that most corporations were still reluctant to adopt such policies.  In response, the Government was working to expand education and consultation projects to convince people of the benefits.  To encourage gender equality in families in the context of the patriarchal traditions, family-unit programmes had been established and the expansion of paternal education programmes had been planned to promote the participation of fathers in child-rearing.

Diverse policies to aid the various kinds of multicultural families were being implemented to foster an equal relationship among family members, with a focus on sensitizing married men and couples on human rights and preventing domestic violence.  Visitation services would be expanded in the future.  The Korean Government had also continued its efforts to strengthen international collaboration on gender equality through its development cooperation programmes and international organizations.  It had pledged $4.7 million to UN Women, and was planning to develop joint programmes with it.  Working to incorporate a gender perspective in programmes of Official Development Assistance (ODA), the Government aid agency had introduced measures such as the gender desk offices and a quota for women trainees from partner countries, and it was seeking to ensure more economic opportunities and empowerment for women in the developing world.

She stressed, finally, that the recommendations of the women’s Committee had been a strong driving force behind the Korean Government’s actions to tackle gender discrimination.  The results of the examination of the last report in 2007 had been disseminated widely and fed into policy consideration.  Today’s consideration and the resulting recommendations would serve as a valuable foundation to help the country move forward.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert member from Croatia, opened the question-and-answer session with a request for more information on a reservation of the Republic of Korea with regard to the Convention’s article dealing with the family name of a child.  A withdrawal of that reservation had been proposed, but had not been achieved, she said, asking for an update on the withdrawal process and for information about the timeframe.  She also asked the delegation to further explain the rights of a woman to decide on her family name when entering into a marriage.

The report, she said, pointed to problems with the cooperation between Government and non-governmental organizations, mentioning, for example, court cases under which those associations had challenged Government policy.  Could more information be provided on that matter?

She also asked about a previous recommendation of the Committee with regard to the introduction of general anti-discrimination legislation in the country.  It was not clear from the information provided how that process would proceed.  What would constitute grounds for discrimination?  Would the law also protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity?

AYSE FERIDE ACAR, expert member from Turkey, said that an “impressive” legal framework, which was largely in line with international standards, had been put in place.  However, some serious problems existed with regard to implementation.  She recognized that it was difficult to be a democratic Government working for women’s rights in a patriarchal culture, but she asked about the specific reasons for the inadequacy of implementation.  Was there political will on the part of the Government to implement those laws and to further improve on them?

The expert said she wished to see more cooperation between the Government and non-governmental organizations, stressing that further consultation was needed with groups outside of the Government’s immediate reach.  Additionally, she wondered if the new concluding observations of the Committee would be formally submitted to the Parliament.  Would the Gender Equality and Family Commission have a responsibility to oversee every law, and was it aligned with the Convention and other international standards?  Was there a women’s caucus within the Government acting as an internal advocate?

NICOLE AMELINE, Vice-Chairperson and expert member from France, underscored that the country had made great progress in protecting the rights of women.  However, she requested an update on future ratification of the Convention’s protocols on trafficking in persons and organized crime, as well as the Convention on Migrants.  Did the Government intend to strengthen the powers of the Human Rights Commission, and to provide it with the criteria of the Principles of Paris?

She further asked for more information on the expansion of the ministerial portfolios, including that of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, and whether the Government was committed to protecting the right to abortion.  Finally, recalling that a delegation of women had been created several years ago to take part in negotiations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, she asked whether that programme was still a priority.

Taking the floor, VICTORIA POPESCU, Vice-Chairperson and expert member from Romania, said that while discrimination was prohibited under the country’s Human Rights Commission Act, a comprehensive anti-discrimination law had not been adopted.  Why was that?  How would such a law compare to the current laws?

Regarding the proposed Women’s Development Act that had been mentioned, was women’s employment specifically addressed in that measure?  Was a definition of discrimination — both direct and indirect — included?  If not, she strongly advised the delegation to do so.  Additionally, did the country plan to provide technical assistance for the implementation of the Committee’s concluding observations?  She also strongly advised that that be done.

With regard to article 3, concerning legislative measures to advance women’s status, VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert member from Slovenia, asked the delegation to describe the coordinating role of the Government to prevent discrimination in all sectors.  Similarly, how was the country’s gender mainstreaming programme coordinated?  The report had mentioned a gender impact assessment policy on existing legislation.  Was such a policy also in place for proposed legislation?

Further, she asked about the Government’s channels of cooperation with civil society, whose critical role had been recognized by the international community.  Regarding gender budgeting, which had been introduced by the country years ago, what was the current percentage of the public budget allocated explicitly for the empowerment of women and the achievement of gender equality objectives?

ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert member from China, asked about the three policy objectives that aimed to respect “diversity and difference”.  What was the exact definition of those terms?  The report seemed to indicate that the number of Government ministries with diversity units had been reduced.  What was the reason for that?  Also, had an inter-ministerial mechanism been established?

Recalling the slogan of the country’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family — “a happier society and happier citizens” — she said that it seemed that more attention was being given to the family than to gender equality itself.  What was meant by that slogan, and why had it been launched?  What were the Ministry’s public awareness goals?  The report pointed to a significant increase in the number of staff and financial resources of the Ministry, but she said that some of those details were confusing or conflicting.  Could the delegation offer a clarification?

Delegation Responses

On the country’s reservations to 16.1 (d), on the same rights and responsibilities of parents regardless of their marital status, a delegate said that a gender discrimination act had been in process, but was interrupted by the end of the legislative period.  It was still being pursued in the appropriate manner.  The reservation on 16.1 (g), on surnames, was maintained, but the civil act had been revised to allow a couple to agree on a child’s surname.  Public opinion was being consulted on the matter and international norms studied in regard to further change.  On cooperation with non-governmental organizations, there were meetings organized every year and the Ministry was working to increase the amount of financial support provided to the organizations and their programmes.  Of course, the support they rendered was still proportionally small, and there were many such organizations, but a balance was being sought. 

On the balance of focus on women as opposed to families, another delegate stressed that issues of family, youth and women were interrelated.  On the ban on abortion, there were exceptions for the health of the mother and child and other situations.  The subject was now being widely debated, and prevention of unwanted pregnancies was a key part.  Handling the issue in a way that valued life was critical.  On relevant questions about relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a delegate stressed that policies had been shaped following the case of a woman’s death in 2008.  Cultural orientation was provided to migrant women to promote their adjustment, while migrants were encouraged to share their cultural values to make society more multicultural. 

A delegate said that a revised bill had been submitted in the legislature to take the gender-equality policy to a broader level, and the definition of gender discrimination would be considered in the context of that process.  Women’s policies at a higher level of Government were being coordinated, with the current focus on the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.  The women-friendly city policies were being shaped to suit the conditions of each locality.  Gender impact analysis had been carried out for seven years, starting with a review of the effectiveness and consistency of ongoing programmes.  Gender budgeting, it was true, was limited to a certain sum, but what was more important than the amount was whether a gender-responsive budget was in place in critical areas.

The Government of the Republic of Korea planned to expand its ODA programmes, she said, particularly in career development and other programmes for women.  The Ministry would continue with training of ministries of developing countries.  She agreed that a gender-perspective should be incorporated in all development programmes and pledged that the Government would increase efforts in that regard.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Turning to questions on article 4 of the Convention, on temporary special measures, Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, said that the serious lack of women’s participation in Korean decision-making was a clear demonstration of the lack of implementation of women’s empowerment laws.  Further, the very slow pace at which women’s representation was increasing showed that that article of the Convention was not being utilized.  She asked the delegation to provide concrete data on related policies, as well as on any efforts envisaged to change that situation more rapidly.

NAELA MOHAMED GABR, expert member from Egypt, requested more information on the country’s policy on migrant women, in particular with regard to the prevention of domestic violence.  Some positive measures on migrants had been undertaken in the areas of health and education.  However, impunity had been seen in cases of domestic violence.  While reporting those cases was critical, more information was needed on what happened after a report was made.

On the issue of trafficking in women, would the Republic of Korea adopt a law that reflected the rights of victims in line with international law, including the Palermo Protocol?  With regard to migrant workers, would the country adhere to the related international convention?  Would it create a plan of action to combat trafficking in women?  She suggested that the provision of official development assistance should to be reviewed and oriented around the rights of women.

SILVIA PIMENTEL, Chairperson and expert member from Brazil, asked about measures aimed at supporting the victims of prostitution and the punishment of clients.  Could more information on those policies be provided?  Could statistical data be given with regard to the incidence of prostitution as it related to those policies?

On the protection of women victims of violence, she noted that several measures were mentioned in the report and asked if there was a monitoring system in place to ensure their implementation.  Was there a guarantee that the women would be protected from recidivism?  The report also mentioned cooperation systems between central and local governments on women’s protection.  Had those systems proved effective at the local level?  Could statistics be provided?

Ms. POPESCU, Vice-Chairperson and expert from Romania, pointed to the country’s patriarchal culture and asked what measures were being taken in schools to both prevent violence against women and ensure a culture of non-violence among youth.  Was a human rights and gender perspective integrated into school curricula?

Three main laws existed on sexual and domestic violence.  Could the delegation elaborate on measures in place to bring more awareness of those measures?  What were the monitoring bodies for those laws?  Was it envisaged to amend those laws, or to repeal the obligation of women to file a complaint when they were victims of sexual violence?  That burden led to non-reporting and put excessive pressure on victims, she stressed.  Additionally, would such laws include a clear statement on marital rape?

VIOLET TSISIGA AWORI, Rapporteur and expert member from Kenya, asked about the lack of a comprehensive law on trafficking in persons in the Republic of Korea.  The delegation had acknowledged the lack of statistics available on the number of female victims of trafficking, and asked what measures were in place to enact a comprehensive law, and collect better data.

Regarding a category of visas, known as “E-6” visas, which were intended to allow foreign artists to perform in nightclubs in Korea, concerns had been raised that those workers frequently became victims of trafficking.  The report stated that those women were protected, but in reality, related investigations were limited and the roots of the phenomenon were not well understood.  She asked for the delegation’s comment, as well as an analysis of the impact of training on public officials on that matter.  Had the situation improved?

ISMAT JAHAN, expert member from Bangladesh, said that while the Republic of Korea prohibited trafficking for sex work or marriage brokerage, “grave concerns” existed about the enforcement of such laws.  She also echoed the concerns of other experts about the E-6 visa. If they managed to escape from traffickers, were migrant victims in that specific situation provided with safeguards?  Would they be treated as illegal migrants?  A 2004 law had led to the closure of brothels, she recalled, but the prostitution trade had flourished underground.  It was difficult to prove “victim status”, which was required for punishment, under the law.  She asked whether the delegation could provide further information on that policy, as well as a proposed timeline for the decriminalization of women in prostitution.

Further, she said, legislation had been passed protecting foreign brides from exploitation, but immigrant women were required to obtain their husband’s approval to gain legal status.  That needed to change, she stressed.  With regard to the Palermo Protocol, would the country adopt a comprehensive definition of human trafficking, as required by the protocol?

Ms. AMELINE, Vice-Chairperson and expert from France, asked how international cooperation on the subject of human trafficking worked.  What proposals could be made at the international level to provide better protection at the country of origin?  Did the Republic of Korea have measures in mind to deter the practice?  The international community must make a greater commitment to what, in reality, constituted a “crime against humanity”, she said.

Delegation Responses

In regard to women’s participation in elected offices, a delegate said that the Government realized that an increase was needed, but there was a limit to improvement in the current situation.  The Government was doing what it could, however, to increase the pool of women candidates, through, for example, a website to identify them.  Another delegate described efforts to increase the number of women professors at universities, which had grown greatly in the past several years.  A plan was in place since 2002 to train women scientists, who had also increased as a result.

On preventing human trafficking, a delegate said that the Government was in the process of ratifying the optional protocol to the international Convention and revising relevant laws in the process.  In particular, it was working on the problems connected to women in the country on certain visas; victims of trafficking were not deported against their will and other measures to protect them were being taken.  Awareness was being raised; laws were being reviewed and would be strengthened.  In addition, punishment for crimes related to prostitution had increased and victims were being supported.  Most women involved in prostitution were considered victims, but if a woman was caught engaging in the activity she was prosecuted as was the man who engaged her.  However, she also was assisted to end the prostitution activities. 

A delegate said that victims of sexual violence could file suits, with legal assistance.  For that purpose, there was a one-stop service centre that also provided counselling, along with a shelter system, run through matching funds provided by the central and local governments.  Victims did not receive subsidies, but were provided with necessities in the shelters.  The mandatory filing of charges in cases of violence was undergoing review, and improving that policy would be a priority going forward.

The Korean Government had expressed support for the International Labour Organization (ILO) domestic worker policies, a delegate added.  Those workers had protections in many cases, but surveys were still needed to learn more about their situation.  On educational programmes in Korean schools that addressed sexual violence, a delegate said that a mandatory 10 hours of sex education was required in the curriculum, along with educational support and training of teachers to address the problem.  A student health information centre provided support and educational materials.  The family ministry was working to increase the material on sexual violence in the mandated sex education. 

Another delegate explained that migrant women, following a divorce that was not her fault, could still pursue naturalization, and the problem of non-support of the Korean spouses involved was being addressed.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. ACAR, expert from Turkey, recalling that the delegation had made assurances of the Government’s collaboration with several non-governmental organizations, asked which criteria were used to select those particular organizations.  Were there objective criteria by which collaboration with a wider spectrum of organizations could be ensured?

It would be useful if the delegation could clarify the system for official prosecution of sexual offenders in their country, she said.  Did prosecution continue even if a woman withdrew her complaint?  Finally, on the subject of shelters for female victims of violence, were shelters conceived to be simply temporary places of residence, or instead, as places where women built new skills and worked towards a new life?

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, said she was disappointed with many of the delegation’s responses.  Again, she asked, what law was currently in place on the right of woman to decide her family name?  What was the timeframe for the withdrawal of the country’s reservation to article 16 (g)?  What was being done to implement anti-discrimination laws, and what was the corresponding timeframe?  Was there a possibility to include a prohibition in those laws of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity — an issue that had been highlighted by the Secretary-General?

RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert member from Israel, also asked about instituting a process of by which immigrant women could obtain nationality without the consent of their husbands.  In cases of divorce, what was meant by the party “at fault”?  No clear explanation of the fault regime had been given in the report, she said.

Ms. POPESCU, Vice-Chairperson and expert from Romania, asked again whether a recommendation contained in the previous conclusions of the Committee, with regard to broadening the definition of rape and including marital rape, specifically, had been adopted?  Regarding the rejection of the anti-discrimination bill, she pointed to the inclusion of a clause on sexual orientation as a basis for discrimination as a possible explanation for the bill’s failure.  Would that clause be retained if the bill was re-introduced?

Delegation Responses

A delegate said that in response to the Government’s invitations, many applications were received from non-governmental organizations wishing to be involved in implementation of the women Committee’s recommendations.  On a timeline for withdrawing the reservation on section 16.1 (g), concerning the same personal rights for husband and wife, the Assembly had not rejected the bill, but its session had ended; a new Assembly needed to be elected.  She asked for understanding that a timetable could not be provided, but that the Committee would be kept informed on progress. 

In response to another question, she said that women in shelters from domestic violence could stay for a year and a half, after which, other living arrangements could be provided, along with assistance with employment and other matters.  It was true, a delegate added to another query, fault was considered in divorces involving migrants, but there also was consideration of domestic violence, for which shelters and counselling were provided.  Other services, such as those related to the acquisition of Korean nationality, also were available.

Experts’ questions and comments

As the experts turned to questions on the second part of the Convention, OLINDA BAREIRO-BOBADILLA, expert from Paraguay, asked how funds earmarked for the promotion of women’s participation in politics were used.  There seemed to be discrepancies in those numbers, she said.  What was the electoral system like, and how did it account for the irregular numbers provided by the report?

Noting the report’s explanation that women’s low participation in politics was due in part to a traditional patriarchal mindset, which had its basis in Confucianism, she asked how that mindset affected voting.  What were Confucian stereotypes like, and what measures were being taken to counter them?

MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert member from Algeria, noted that the delegation before the Committee was made up entirely of women — a fact that set a positive example and showed that women “could do without a man”.  The Republic of Korea had made no reservations to articles 6 and 7 of the Convention, which related to women in public life, she noted; nonetheless, there was a serious lack of women leaders at both central and local government and in the judicial system.  If no such reservations had been made, she expected that the number of female politicians should be 50 per cent.

Recalling further that 10 per cent of political subsidies were required by law to be used to support female candidates, she suggested that a higher percentage might be needed to boost equitable representation.

On article 9, Ms. SCHULZ, expert from Switzerland, asked what proportion of legal migrants obtained nationality via marriage or were granted temporary stay visas.  How many had had to leave the country?  Did the Republic of Korea plan to change the law in order to give those women a guarantee of staying in the country?  Would they be able to move towards naturalization without approval of their husbands?  She also asked whether the country planned to ratify the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Delegation’s response

Regarding Korean women in politics, a member of the delegation confirmed that 10 per cent of the subsidies allocated to political parties had to be used to promote female candidates.  While the Government did not receive a detailed report on the use of those funds, that information would be sent to the Committee if it became available.

In Parliament, she explained, some posts were filled through direct elections, while others were filled by a proportion system.  In that system, each political party presented a “line-up” of candidates ahead of time.  Of that list, 50 per cent were women.  Meanwhile, it was recommended — but not required — that 30 per cent of the directly elected seats be filled by women.  Together, the two systems currently accounted for a total of 13 per cent of Parliamentary seats that were filled by women.

Another member of the delegation said that while the country’s patriarchal system did account for the current low levels of female political representation, there was evidence that the mindset was changing.  Last year, female representatives in local parliaments increased to about 20 per cent.  It was also important to note that women filled larger percentages of low-level Government offices because of their relative youth.  When those older leaders at the highest levels had begun their public service, there had been relatively few female politicians; that ratio should change as younger women moved up in their careers.

Regarding the nationalization process of women who came into the country through international marriages, a delegate said that the Korean Divorce Act contained a clause pertaining to the party “at fault”.  It was possible for women to stay in the Republic of Korea while the situation of fault was being resolved, she said.

Additionally, she said, women were not given the burden of proving that their husband was at fault.  Women were also not required to prove that they were victims of domestic violence, which was cause for divorce.  When an immigrant woman had a child with a Korean husband, she could gain nationality or permanent status whether she was divorced or not.

Another delegate answered a question on spousal rape, which she said was not addressed by a specific clause or provision in the law.  However, court precedents existed punishing that practice, which were sufficient to deal with the matter.  Addressing the nationalization of women through marriage, she said about 163,000 women married Korean men, and of those, about 100,000 gained nationality.  On average, it took about two to five years to gain nationality.

On women’s participation in high levels of politics and foreign affairs, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that — contrary to one of the experts’ statements — there was in fact one female Korean ambassador.  There was a five-year plan to promote female representation, so that number was expected to increase.  Additionally, she noted, of those passing the latest foreign service entrance exams, more than 50 per cent were women.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert member from Spain, asked for more details on women in the security services.

PATRICIA SCHULZ, expert member from Switzerland, asked for more information on the rights of migrant spouses and migrant workers

Ms. BAREIRO-BOBADILLA, expert from Paraguay, asked for the number of women in the Cabinet, as well as the Ministry’s approach to the role of women in the family, specifically, whether it really promoted women’s public participation.

Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, asked about policies regarding family names women were required to take in marriage.

Delegation Responses

About 6 per cent of the police force was women, a delegate said, but few of them were in management positions, and the goal was to increase their percentage to 10 per cent.  There were dedicated officers for women victims of violence connected to the one-stop service centres, but they were not available in every case.  She did not have the statistics on the number of migrant women who had to leave the country after divorce.  The focus of policies in that area was to help improve the conditions of those marriages.

A delegate said that policies in regard to promoting the public participation of women were still being revised.  Women did not usually take their husbands’ names and, in general, the child took the father’s surname, but the couple could choose otherwise.  Public opinion was being considered concerning whether that policy should be made more equal.

Responding to a question about the ratio of male to female ministers in the Republic of Korea, a member of the national assembly had been contacted for more information about the use of political subsidies, said the delegate.  Besides supporting female candidates, those funds were also used to enhance the political awareness of female members of Government.

Addressing a question about the amount of Government funds spent to support non-governmental organizations, the amount in 2010 was 3 billion won, supporting 150 organizations, she said, adding that that number changed every year.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Turning to education, YOKO HAYASHI, expert from Japan, asked about measures to rectify imbalances between men and women’s choice of college majors.  What was being done to encourage female students to choose non-traditional subjects?  She was happy that the report noted that 10 hours per year were required for sexual education.  However, other sources reported that the actual figure was lower.  Was any mechanism in place to monitor the implementation of the policy on sexual education?

On article 11, concerning employment discrimination, PRAMILA PATTEN, expert member from Mauritius, addressed the high level of women’s unemployment in the Republic of Korea.  Was the Government developing and promoting employment services for women who were entering or re-entering the workforce, particularly vulnerable women?  How was it addressing systemic occupational segregation in the private labour force?

The expanding informal work sector was a concern, she said.  What efforts were under way to protect women, who constituted up to 63 per cent of non-regular workers?  What measures were taken to narrow the significant income gap between men and women?  Would the Government consider readjusting the minimum wage in order to address the feminization of poverty?  Finally, she recalled that in 2008 a programme granting “business friendly” advantages to large corporations had been enacted, but had not achieved the desired effect of closing the pay or employment gaps.  Would the Government review that programme?

NIKLAS BRUUN, expert member from Finland, said that no real progress had been achieved in women’s employment since the country’s previous review by the Committee.  The main problem was a structural one, namely, the large proportion of women in the non-regular work sector.  Affirmative action programmes had not been enough, he said, asking whether the Government was planning to enact stronger measures.  Concerning the principle of equal work for equal value, the country had been criticized by ILO for referring in its legislation to “slightly different” work performed by women.  Did it still adhere to that definition?

The State could not replace its obligation to provide maternity leave by paying a subsidy to employers, he stressed.  Were other measures planned?  The Committee had observed that while a female labour union existed in the Republic of Korea, there had been reports of women who were fired for becoming members.  He asked, in that light, for an assurance of the freedom of association.  Additionally, what remedies were planned for the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace?  Would the country’s relatively low minimum wage be raised?  How did the Government plan to promote the employment of women with disabilities, which was extremely low?  What about migrant women or asylum seekers?

Ms. SCHULZ, expert from Switzerland, asked for clarification on whether non-regular workers were entitled to maternity leave.  What was the reason for the increase in non-regular workers?  On the reconciliation of work and family, she noted that the Government was developing a plan that would facilitate part-time work for female — and only female — workers.  Would such a plan reinforce the patriarchal system?  Would the Government instead consider measures for both men and women involved in family care?

Moving to article 12 on health, MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert member from Cuba, cited the report’s statement to the effect that while women enjoyed an average life expectancy that exceeded that of men by six years, their quality of life was inferior.  Were special programmes in place to alleviate illness and improve women’s living conditions, especially those of older women?  What was the incidence of breast and cervical cancer in the Republic of Korea, and what were their impacts on the death rate of women?

She referred to a 2007 Committee recommendation that there be legal regulation of the gathering of egg cells for reproductive purposes.  The Committee had recommended that the practice be regularly monitored, and that national bioethics and biosafety laws be promptly amended to require the free prior and informed consent of women for that purpose.  No information had been provided by the delegation as to whether that had been done.  Noting concerns that had been raised that sex education, while obligatory, did not appear to be part of the school curriculum, she requested more details on how that mandate was being implemented, especially with regard to the use of contraceptives.

Ms. DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, said there was a problem with child abuse and child pornography in the Republic of Korea.  A growing number of youth reported abuse, she said, asking whether special programmes were available to train doctors and psychologists in that area.  Noting that the Republic of Korea attracted many plastic surgery patients, she asked if the Government regulated private clinics.  Additionally, did it regulate the advertisements that attracted such patients?

The second leading cause of death for women in the country was suicide, she stressed.  However, the report did not provide information on its possible reasons, including social pressures leading to feelings of failure among women.  Were special courses widely available on that matter?  Were guidelines in place for women who had been brought to the country as “mail-order brides”?  Finally, noting the number of single educated women in the country and the existence of many matchmaking agencies, she wondered if single women suffered from discrimination.

Ms. PIMENTEL, Chairperson and expert from Brazil, said the report mentioned an act ensuring remedies in cases of discrimination against persons with disabilities.  Could it provide more details on specific benefits to women with disabilities?  The incidence of HIV/AIDS had increased between 2007 and 2008, she said, and the Government had engaged in campaigns to prevent the spread of the disease and as well as to reduce stigma.  Could more information be provided on those measures?  Additionally, she requested more information on programmes implemented to improve the health of impoverished women, and data on health discrepancies between poor and wealthy women.

On article 13, Ms. HAYASHI, expert from Japan, recalled that the Republic of Korea had ratified the Optional Protocol of the Convention in 2006.  It had enacted a law preventing discrimination of short-term and part-time workers.  Did it protect the pensions of those workers?  She also noted that more women than men relied on the public welfare scheme and that many developed countries had seen a recent increase in prejudicial attitudes against public assistance recipients.  In that light, was the country preparing a more gender-sensitive social safety net?

Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, wondered if, in the case of divorce or the death of a husband, benefits were only granted to married migrant women caring for children or family members.  Could the delegation clarify that matter?  Turning to article 14 of the Convention, she commended the country on the implementation of several acts protecting rural women’s rights.  The bulk of the budget for rural women went to the provision of child-care facilities for women farmers, she noted, inquiring whether any changes were planned.

With regard to women’s access to land, she pointed out that more than 70 per cent of land was owned by men, with the remaining percentage owned mostly by older women and widows.  What measures were planned to rectify the imbalance?  What plans or policies were in place to increase women’s access to credit and to promote entrepreneurship?

ZOHRA RASEKH, Vice-Chairperson and expert member from Afghanistan, asked whether the second five-year plan mentioned in the report had provisions in place for insurance for vulnerable women.  More than 50 per cent of farm workers were women, she noted, asking if there had been any innovation in the farming machinery aimed at reducing the burden of work on women.  The report mentioned a quota system related to young women in farming.  Why was that number so low?  Finally, in terms of the country’s agricultural budget, she wondered what percentage was allocated to male farmers, and if it was equivalent to that allocated to women.

Delegation’s responses

Regarding the disparity of college majors, a delegate said that it was true that women were less represented in “hard” sciences and other areas than men, and that they were 5 per cent less successful in gaining employment overall.  Those disparities were being addressed by school curricula that countered gender stereotypes.  The mandated 10 hours of sex education were fulfilled universally, but the quality was not always predictable, so the family ministry was advocating for more oversight to ensure, among others, that sexual violence was addressed. 

Concerning labour and work conditions, a delegate said that a group monitored the situation of discrimination in business establishments and promoted more equitability.  In order to increase employment insurance coverage of women, work was being done to gather more data and increase women’s participation.  In other areas, she said that women were not subjected to discrimination in joining unions and the minimum wage was recently raised higher than the inflation rate.  There was a mandatory quota for hiring persons with disabilities and incentives were provided for exceeding it.  Provision of sign-language interpreters and other assistance also was being provided.

From 2001 to 2006, great improvement had been tracked in the proportion of women in the workforce, and continuous meetings were held at the community level to induce businesses to improve the situation further, a delegate said.  Best-performing companies were publicly announced and further incentives were being considered.  Pre- and post-natal leave was protected by law and subsidies were provided to encourage mothers’ re-hiring.  She said that work/life balance measures were necessary because, among other reasons, the country had the longest working hours among OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, and long employment gaps could harm careers. 

She acknowledged that more attention must be paid to the quality of life of elderly women, who greatly outnumbered men.  She did not have data on abortions.  On other health matters, a delegate said that there were legal limits on human egg donations.  Around 12 million people subscribed to health and pension insurance, with about half of women having their own health and/or pension coverage.  The basic principle was universal coverage, so if a woman did not have her own coverage, she would be covered by another family member.  Anyone could subscribe to national pension coverage; there was no discrimination between men and women.  Farmers were eligible for such coverage as well.  

On plastic surgery, a delegate said that Government regulations requiring patient notification about the procedures applied.  However, there were no regulations on what procedures should be allowed or disallowed.  She promised the Committee to answer questions submitted in writing on the suicide rate, and commented that the later marriage rate was not indicative of discrimination against women but of better career opportunities. 

The problem of the ageing of the agricultural population was due to demographic causes, and there were programmes addressing single elderly women in agricultural areas, the delegation said.  Rural support funds otherwise were provided to families, and not to individuals, and the actual receiver of the funds were men because they were the heads of agricultural households.  Increased morbidity among poorer persons would be considered in future policy as well.  The problem of farm implements being designed for men was being explored.  The quota of 20 per cent for next-generation farmers was not a ceiling; it was a minimal number. 

The country did not have a specific law for women with disabilities, but there were legal protections for all persons with disabilities, said the delegation.  Where women’s special needs were not considered, there were benefits available from the Ministry of Women and Family.  There were centres that provided counselling, assistance, training and education for women with disabilities.  Turning again to the issue of married immigrants, the delegate said that all the pensions and other social benefits would apply.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI, expert from Israel, said that with regard to divorce, a “separate property” regime could be in line with the Convention, provided that its end result was an equal disposition for both sides of the marriage.  However, in the country’s current legal regime, that did not seem to be the case.  Priority was given to the spouse under whose name the property was registered.  Did data exist on the registration of property to men and women?  A recent survey indicated that 76 per cent of women reported that their property was registered under their husband’s name, she said.  What was the distribution of property in relevant court cases?  Were intangible assets, future earning potential, and any other post-divorce spousal support also included in the distribution?

Concerning the matter of “fault” in divorce cases, she said it was still not entirely clear if divorce was fault-based in the Republic of Korea.  If so, how was fault proven?  What factors were taken into consideration?  In cases where the legal situation of a divorced immigrant woman remained unsettled, did she lose custody of her children?

Ms. HAYASHI, expert from Japan, asked how long it took for immigrant women to become eligible for permanent resident status or for citizenship. In cases of divorce, did those women have access to free legal aid, counselling or other guidance in their own languages?

Delegation’s response

A member of the delegation from the Ministry of Justice said that, regarding the division of marital property, there was no explicit provision calling for a 50-50 split.  However, the spouse in whose name the property had not been registered could file for some of the property accumulated during the marriage, and a court precedent was building for the 50-50 split provision.

If a certain period of time had passed in the marriage, or if children resulted from that marriage, an immigrant woman would have no difficulty in obtaining citizenship, she said.  Additionally, if a divorce was due to domestic violence or another related extenuating situation, a woman’s stay in the country could be extended.

Another member of the delegation said that marriage immigrants could receive legal assistance at local centres, or by hiring a lawyer.  Many wanted to return to their home countries following a divorce, and were not prevented from doing so.  In response to the question on the right to property and its division, a delegate said the law did not stipulate the percentage of the division of property, but both parties had an equal right to property accumulated during the marriage, including future earnings.  If one party had had a greater role in that accumulation, that might factor into the case.  In the case of intangible assets, a spouse who stayed at home had equal rights as the spouse who worked, she said.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. ACAR, expert from Turkey, asked exactly how measures on divorce applied, including custody.

Ms. AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, asked about disabilities covered by the presidential decree as well as situations in which abortions were allowed.

Ms. SCHULZ, expert from Switzerland, asked if measures were being considered for compensation for women who had been discriminated against in employment, as well as for information on affirmative action programmes.

Mr. BRUUN, expert from Finland, expressed concern over the length of time that non-regular workers had to work until their jobs became regularized.

Delegation’s Responses

A delegate said that fault in divorce was only found if one spouse did not agree to the divorce.  Property was divided mainly according to contributions in acquiring it.  The courts decided on custody if parents disagreed; there was no priority for either the father or mother in those cases.  Statistics were not yet available on which side got custody in the cases of foreign spouses.  In regard to abortions regarding women with disabilities, it was possible voluntarily if certain conditions were met.  Sexual education was being provided to women with disabilities by the Ministry of Education and at assistance centres.

Another delegate said that there were incentives offered for businesses that employed higher numbers of disabled people or people with more severe disabilities.  Non-regular employees were to be converted to regular status within two years and there were inspectors that enforced that policy.  The request for statistics on affirmative employment by type of employment would be provided, she said.  Gaps in regular employment opportunities between men and women existed, but the employment policy aimed at providing a wide variety of opportunities for women, including part-time employment, might suit some women better.  Both women and men were having problems working long working hours and taking care of their families.

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*     The 986th Meeting was closed.

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.