South KoreaThe Seoul government’s fertility guidelines sparked public outrage over allegedly sexism and disregard for women.
The instructions read: “Before giving birth, check if you have enough toilet paper. Prepare food for your husband because he is definitely ‘not good at cooking’. Make sure to tie your hair so that you do not get sick. After your baby is born, hang up a small dress as you will need the motivation to stop eating. “
This document recommends that pregnant women check essential household items so that members do not find it inconvenient. They were also advised to clean the refrigerator, prepare rice and look for a babysitter.
The instruction does not address the husband’s responsibility, but does suggest that the wife should maintain her attractiveness.
“Hang the clothes you wear before marriage or the small one you want to wear after giving birth in a place that’s easy to see. When you want to eat more or quit exercising, you’ll be motivated by looking at them,” says recording instructions.
This pregnancy guide, which has appeared on the government website since 2019, has only recently attracted the public’s attention, causing a wave of outcry on social media. Many argue that it reflects the outdated viewpoint that exists in deeply patriarchal society. They asked the city to drop the guidelines, especially in the context of South Korea working to encourage women to have children, boosting the world’s lowest capital birth rate.
Yong Hye-in, a member of the National Assembly, a social activist, thinks that women’s parenting responsibilities will double if they follow the instructions, because they have to take care of their husbands. According to her, women marrying men who refuse to do housework are best divorced.
Speaking of the government’s guide, Dr. Kim Jae-yean, President of the Korean Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, commented: “I think it was written by someone who has never had a baby.”
Authorities should, he argued, should give practical advice on breastfeeding.
Last week, 21,000 people signed an online petition calling on authorities to publicly apologize and discipline the person for drafting the above guidelines.
The Seoul Department of Public Health acknowledged the responsibility “for not carefully and closely scrutinizing the contents at that time”. The ministry said it would improve gender-sensitive training for all staff.
The most controversial parts of the guide have been removed. However, the original text tips and screenshots are still circulating.
“Why should we look for the underlying cause of this low birth rate? It’s right here,” wrote one user of the social network.
Many politicians also criticized this message for damaging Korea’s reputation. Woo Sang-ho, lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party, said: “It is a shame the old-fashioned advice about pregnant women to serve their families is still drafted.”
Some think the protest has gone too far.
“I don’t think it’s ridiculous to ask women to prepare food and to arrange their houses,” said Kyung Jin Kim, 42, a former lawyer in Seoul. She said the guide would be more helpful “if the tone didn’t sound like a middle-aged man or an elderly mother-in-law”.
South Korea has become an economic and cultural powerhouse, and many women still experience unfair treatment. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the gender pay gap here is the highest among 37 countries. Women do the same amount of work as men, but are paid nearly 40% lower. Many maternity leave suffer pressure from both the family and the company.
This partly makes Korean women afraid to give birth. Last year, the country’s population fell for the first time, reaching nearly 21,000 people. Births decreased by 10.5% and deaths increased by 3%. The Ministry of Home Affairs and Safety acknowledged its significant effects on society as a whole, saying “in the context of rapid fertility decline, the government needs fundamental change with the relevant policy”.
Thuc Linh (According to the NY Times)