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FOCUS December 2003 Volume 34

Japan-Korea Exchange on Gender-Equal Society

Park Koonae

The Korean WomenLink and the Graduate School of Education of Hanshin University and HURIGHTS OSAKA organized a Japan-Korea Seminar on Gender-Equal Society on 26-30 August 2003. 14 educators from Japan took part in the event.

The Seminar, the second in the series that started in Osaka in 2002, had two activities. The first, co-orga-nized with Korean WomenLink, focused on comparisons and exchanges of opinion on the current situation of women in Korea and Japan. The second, co-organized with the Graduate School of Education of Hanshin University, focused on gender education in schools.

The first activity was held on 27 August 2003 with Ms. Jung Kang-ja, Joint Representative of the Korean WomenLink as coordinator and 4 speakers, including Ms. Choi Myun Sook of the Korean WomenLink and Ms. Chiyomi Wakimoto of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (RENGO) Osaka chapter.

The discussions reveal the similarities in the situation of women in Korea and Japan. They include the low participation of women in politics, the "M curve" (women in their 30s stopping work due to marriage, pregnancy and child-care, and re-entering the labor market afterwards), less pay (about 60% of men's wages even for full-time job), the seriousness of sexual harassment, and the prevalence of indirect discrimination. Both countries have been introducing legislation to achieve gender equality. While Korea has enacted a law prohibiting discrimination, the majority of Korean men do not understand what is meant by "gender." In Japan, there is a strong "back-lash" or reactionary tendencies against what has been achieved so far in this field. But since this trend is not confined to Japan, the speakers stressed the importance of establishing solidarity among women in Asia. A representative of Korean WomenLink spoke about the struggle against labor discrimination, while other Korean speakers introduced the women's movement in Korea in general. Korea is experiencing an extremely rapid decline in the birthrate, and an aging population. Its birthrate has been lower than that of Japan recently, but with increasing divorce rate. The Japanese participants noticed the energy of the Korean women striving towards change in the midst of rapid social transformation.

The second activity, held on 28 August 2003, was coordinated by Dr. Kang Soon-won, Dean of the Graduate School of Education of Hanshin University. There were two speakers: Ms. Kim Jung-Yeon, in charge of education policies for women in the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development of Korea, and Ms. Yumiko Yamamoto of Osaka Prefecture Human Rights Education Research Association.

Ms. Kim spoke about the Korean government's policies and program on human resource development for women. She spoke on the improvement of the status of the female teachers and the strengthening of academic and career counseling for girls. These issues have great relevance in Japan. The Korean participants, in turn, introduced the designation of model schools for the promotion of gender equality education, visual image festival, essay contests and awards as well as the efforts to curb sexual harassment in schools. The Japanese speaker talked about the new teaching material (Jibun o ikiru - Living your life) a collection of practices on gender equality and human relationship compiled by her association. She also cited the need to develop the communication skills of boys to achieve gender equality.

Questions and comments from the floor were mostly from the Korean participants addressed to the Korean government representative. Many of them were critical, since the policies and initiatives explained by the speaker were not actually realized in schools. There were further questions regarding the "hidden curriculum" as well as comments on sex education in Japan.

Park Koonae is a staff member of HURIGHTS OSAKA.

For further information, please contact HURIGHTS OSAKA.