According to a 2017 report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the gender pay gap in South Korea is the highest of its 37 member countries. Working women earn nearly 40 percent less than men, and many stop working when they have children, which is often pressured by their families and jobs.
Other countries in the region, including Japan, which also has an aging population and low birth rate, have large gender gaps, especially when it comes to pregnancy. In Japan, the term “matahara” (short for harassment by motherhood) caught on when a woman’s allegations of workplace bullying after she was born were tried in the country’s Supreme Court in 2014.
These declining populations pose a threat to countries’ economies. It is therefore all the more important that governments act cautiously to encourage women to have children.
Last year, South Korea’s population declined by nearly 21,000 for the first time in its history. Births fell by more than 10.5 percent and deaths by 3 percent. The Department of Home Affairs and Security acknowledged the alarming impact and said that “with the birth rate falling rapidly, the government needs to make fundamental changes to its policies”.
Although the Seoul government may have fiddled with advice, the backlash, as some have said, has proven that attitudes have changed.
“This is just outdated advice,” said Adele Vitale, a birth doula and Italian expatriate who has lived in Busan, a port city on the country’s southeast coast, for a decade.
Ms. Vitale, who works primarily with foreign women married to Korean men, said that while Korean society has traditionally viewed pregnant women as “incapacitated,” their husbands have increasingly held egalitarian views on childbirth and child-rearing.
“Family dynamics have evolved,” she said. “Women are no longer willing to be treated like that.”