Fresh surprise from France
France’s latest cabinet lineup shows why the European country is called the nation of diversity and tolerance. New French President Francois Hollande kept his campaign pledge of a ``gender-equal cabinet” by filling exactly half of 34 ministerial-level portfolios with women.
It’s hard not to compare this with the Korean reality. President Lee Myung-bak, right after his election, pledged to appoint more women to high government posts. Now, there are only two women in Lee’s cabinet _ or one if the ex-officio post of minister for gender equality and family affairs is excluded.
Considering there were four female ministers in the first cabinet of former President Roh Moo-hyun, the gender equality in the government regressed to that of a decade ago, like many other areas in this administration.
Little wonder Korea was ranked 107th out of 135 countries in gender equality.
Gender inequality is both undemocratic and uneconomical. Letting a vast, highly-educated workforce go to waste out of time-honored discrimination and lack of social infrastructure is an enormous social loss. No less importantly, women avoiding having children threaten sustainable growth itself. The time has long past for the government to improve support systems related to childbirth and childcare. We think it could have been more than possible if the Lee administration spent dozens of trillions of won on this area instead of pouring them into rivers.
The Asia Society estimated the productivity loss incurred by Asian nations because of restricting women’s social participation at $89 billion a year. The next government will need to enact a law, which calls for introducing a quota system for women, such as mandatory employment of female executives of up to 40 percent as is the case of Sweden or the nomination of women parliamentary candidates to 30 percent of the total like in Britain and France.
President Hollande’s first cabinet was rather a ``rainbow” cabinet composed of officials representing various ethnicities, ages and social backgrounds. One of them was Fleur Pellerin, an ethnic Korean adopted by French parents when she was six months old, tapped as junior minister for small business, innovation and digital economy.
In contrast, a Russian-Korean boy recently set fire to his high school, unable to bear persistent discrimination and social ostracizing. It comes as small surprise in a country where being different has long become synonymous to being wrong.
The French example should make Koreans take a long, hard look at themselves.