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Jeju women: present and futureA forum in honor of Women's Week on Jeju
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승인 2011.07.11  13:29:21
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▲ Panelists discuss a Seoul model for women's policy. Provided by the Women and Family Policy Division of Jeju Provincial Government

In honor of the nationally designated Women's Week, the Jeju Women’s Forum was held to discuss ways to improve the lives and status of women on the island.

Sponsored by the Jeju provincial government and held at the Seolmundae Women's Center in Shin Jeju, the forum lasted four hours and spanned three sessions on Thursday, July 7.

In the first session, a model from Seoul was presented by Son Mun Geum of the Foundation for Women and Family Policy. Citing a goal of changing Seoul into “a city where women are happy,” she explained that the focus of their project was to uncover hidden inequalities and biases against women.

Researchers at the foundation studied the average woman's everyday life, including urban and environmental issues. The ultimate aim of the project is to develop relevant policy not only within the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family but in a variety of government sectors as well as NGOs and private corporations.

Panel discussants included Lee Sunhwa, member of the Jeju Provincial Council; Jeong Tae Geun, director of the government's administrative division; Shin Kyung-in, president of YWCA; and Kim Mijeong of NXC.

Jeong began by stating that, while the status of women was far better today than previously in Korea, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development rankings regarding women in the workforce and positions of leadership were very low throughout the nation. He reported that in Jeju, the percentage of women in the workforce had actually decreased in the past two years from 61.0 percent in 2008 to 60.3 percent in 2010.

He further identified three specific areas for the Jeju provincial government to focus on: The promotion of society as a whole, with an emphasis on family; public daycare; and, an increase in employment opportunities for women.

Lee, while stating that she was “envious” of the Seoul project in which so many women worked together to advance their status, also questioned whether Seoul as a benchmark was applicable to Jeju.

She stated that, while Kim Man-deok is often referred to as a role model for Jeju women, too much emphasis is placed upon her philanthropic and self-sacrificing actions and not enough on her skill and great success as a businesswoman.

“We need more CEO-mindedness” among women, she advised.

Additionally, Lee stated that Jeju islanders are not typically open to outsiders, but that it is time to include those from the mainland and even foreigners in the process of improving the status of women within society and the development of Jeju Island.

▲ Audience members listen attentively at the recent Jeju Women's Forum. Provided by the Women and Family Policy Division of Jeju Provincial Government

For the second session, on the topic of Jeju women’s leadership, a special presentation was given by Song Kwan Bae, president of the SuSeokSil Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Policy Advisory Committee in Seoul.

Song outlined the concept of leadership and identified examples of female leaders in Korea and other nations. His presentation, while comprehensive, did not focus on or connect directly to Jeju.

The final session of the forum focused on the future direction for improvement of Jeju women's status. Jeon Hee Gyeong, a representative of Seoul-based NGO Citizens for a Better Society, delivered the presentation.

Jeon reported that Korea as a nation ranked 104th out of 134 countries in the category of gender equality at last year's World Economic Forum; the UNDP placed Korea 61st out of 109 countries for female leadership. Female members account for 14.7 percent of the National Assembly, well below the global average of 19.1 percent for similar political structures – a figure in itself remarkably low.

She further reported that Jeju ranks first within Korea in three economically-related categories: women's economic involvement, the number of professional women, and the smallest economic gap between genders. The island is in 10th place out of the 16 provinces for both the percentage of female members in the provincial council and that of female administrators in the public sector.

Panel discussants for the final session included Park Juhee, a member of Jeju Provincial Council; Kang Jeong Ae, representative of Kay Angel; Hyun Jin Hee, chair of National Women's Agricultural Organization in Jeju Provincial Government; and Im Chun Bae, professor of education at Jeju National University.

Park cited an increase in the number of Jeju women in politics and acknowledged a decrease in gender inequality. However, she reported that following the 2010 local elections, 19.1 percent of the positions were held by women – a gain of 5 percent over that of 2006, but considerably lower than most EU countries.

She cited male political dominance coupled with Confucian ideals as the cause.

A poll was recently conducted among Jeju women, according to Park, to explore what prohibits them from entering politics. “Men” was the top answer elicited from 48.9 percent of respondents, with only 10.7 percent citing a perceived lack of ability.

Park urged an increase in female representation within Jeju government, encouraging Jeju women to identify role models and to locate, educate, and support potential female leaders. She reported the establishment of a Women's Special Committee in Jeju Provincial Council, of which Lee Sunhwa was recently made chairperson.

“Jeju holds first place in Korea for the wage gap between women and men,” Park summarized, “and is in 10th place for both women in local council and in public administration. We need to change this.”

Dr. Hilty is a cultural health psychologist.

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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