(Going Down by David Smeaton; used with permission)
For the article in full, on Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon’s “Happy Women, Happy Seoul” plan involving more women’s toilets and the notorious pink parking spaces, see here. Meanwhile, for readers coming from there, see #2 here for the specific quote of Lee Myung-bak’s for which the blog was mentioned, and #2 here for more information on Korea’s disproportionately low Gender Empowerment Measure.
I would also add—with no offense to reporter Veronica Zaragovia, who necessarily had to omit most of what was said in our interview—that the argument that “the plan may end up reasserting South Korean women’s secondary status more than boosting it” is also one that I made in our phone conversation. I based it on the knowledge that the pink parking spaces were made wider in order to better accommodate loading and unloading pushchairs and so on (see #3 here), which had reminded me of this post from Sociological Images about the images in our daily lives that serve to subtly reaffirm the notion that childcare is primarily women’s responsibility. In that vein, while the extra space may well be appreciated by mothers, consider that if I were to park in one of those spaces myself, with just as pressing a need for the space to deal with my two young daughters in the back as my wife would have, then as a man I would be likely either be fined or shooed away.
I grant you, it sounds innocuous. But place that into the context of Korean women having the lowest workforce participation rate in the OECD, the result of a combination of a lack of childcare facilities and an enduring male-breadwinner mentality that forces a stark choice between motherhood or a career, then the underlying sexist logic becomes apparent. Moreover, with Korea in turn having the lowest birthrate in the world, the economic effects of which will be felt soon, then one might reasonably ask if the money could have been better spent.
p.s. Apologies in advance for some light blogging this week; I have a conference presentation to give this weekend.
Update, January 19 2010: See The JoongAng Daily here for all the ways in which programs like this have been considerably expanded since this post was written, now including pink spaces for women at bus stops, on buses, in parking lots and special pink taxis under the rubric of improving women’s safety (via: The Marmot’s Hole).