Times of economic insecurity often lay unequal pressure on women – taking on part-time or full-time jobs whilst at the same time being expected to raise children, run a household, and provide support to her husband. At the same time, this often exposes the illegitimacy of higher pay rates for men, and gender defined career as they excel in roles formerly deemed suitable only for male employees. This can be seen in action in regions such as North Korea (see link 1) – after the South/North divide women were immediately given constitutional equality, although in lee of economic instability this has become little more than symbolic. Men are simply not earning enough to facilitate their ‘breadwinner’ position, which destabilizes a traditional bastion of male power over women. Men maintained dominance as women were dependent on them for money, food, clothing and housing. In North Korea a man may earn as little as 75 pence a month, enough for a small bag of corn – leaving the woman to fill the economic gap. The lack of any real political or educational liberation for women means opportunities are scant – often forcing women into dangerous situations such as smuggling goods over the Chinese border or even being forced to leave their home and families in order to migrate to China to seek new opportunity there. This clearly contradicts the promises of parity set out by the North Korean government – and with women making money trading on the black market, or abandoning their homes, the economic decline in North Korea will only perpetuate.
This for me raises two issues. The first is that for economic stability to arise, women must be given equal opportunities for pay, for education and for career advancement. If women are educated and allowed to develop skills that could help the country, then you boost the skilled and unskilled workforce, improve quality of life for families and increase social stability. It also relieves the economic burden of having daughters and other female household members as dependents without work. This is a central ideal of the UN – gender parity is a necessary precursor to economic success and stability. Secondly, constitutional declarations of equality are not enough – gender equality must be enforced in workplaces and in politics. Pay gaps between men and women in countries such as Wales (see link 2) must be investigated and contested – gender equality must be shown in real terms or it will place a disparate economic burden on women and see a reversion to traditional structures.
Gender equality is not simply a question of ‘rights’ but an economic necessity. If North Korea continues to see women leaving Korea for better opportunity elsewhere, the economy and families will suffer. Whilst women in North Korea and many other developing countries are achieving social parity, this parity must be reflected economically for it to be beneficial to women, or the country as a whole.