The government needs to improve social and gender policies

Ewijeong Jeong
CCEJ, South Korea

Korea has achieved condensed economic growth since the end of the Korean War in the 1950s. Korea joined OECD in 1996, and became 24th member of DAC while achieving most of the MDGs. Korea aims to play a role as a bridge between donors and partners as an emerging donor of OECD/DAC by G20 Seoul Summit in 2010 and Busan 4th High Level Forum on Aid effectiveness in 2011. On the other hand, Korea has experienced socio economic inequality as a side effect from condensed economic growth. The government builds ‘Korean ODA model’ and fragments aid structure.

No more extreme poverty, but diversified poverty

Korea achieved most of the MDGs, but the society has remained challenges which are not shown in MDGs indicators. Right after the Korean War, the GDP was USD 67 and belonged at the group of the Least Developed Countries (LDC). The government of Korea pushed economy policy targeted to improve export-oriented assembling industry with cheap domestic labor forces. By the intensive support of the government, export-oriented industry of conglomerates has been lead Korea’s economic growth and the GDP got doubled from USD 533.5 billion in 2000 to USD 1014.3 billion in 2010. The government has relocated the fund from international market mostly to manufacturing, export, conglomerate, metropolitan area, and hometown of former presidents and it has deepened the gaps between regions, industries, social stratums, and sectors. The economy had stroked by Asia financial crisis in 1997 and global financial crisis in 2008. The economy has recovered but inequality and polarization of poverty got worsened. It is because lack of social protection mechanism and it raised working poor and self-employed small business owner as vulnerable group with traditional vulnerable groups, indigent children, female household, the disabled, and the elderly.

To overcome the financial crisis, the current government, so called MB administration, employed tax cut policies and job creation policies through the 4 major rivers project. However, mostly conglomerates have been benefited from the tax cuts. Besides, the 4 major rivers project has increased day laborers rather than stable full-time jobs which has benefited to construction conglomerates. The government funded USD 7.42 billion on welfare budget in 2009 which was USD 1.2 billion higher than previous year. But the cash assistance policy faced challenges of polarization in the economic structure. According to Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs (KIHASA), in 2006 14.2% of households of 4 made less than a minimum cost of living, USD 1080 per month and in 2010 17.6% of household of 4 made less than USD 1258 per month. The percentage got doubled in rural areas compared to metropolis because of relatively lower income and high population of the elderly in rural areas.

From 2000 to 2009, relative poverty rates of child, the elderly, and female household were increased. The child poverty rate was higher in rural areas and to age of 12-18. The main reasons of the child poverty are the conditions of households when they are female, the elderly, low level of education, single source of income with day labor. The elderly poverty is concentrated in female, low level of education, vulnerable health condition, and rural areas. The Female household suffers more when the household is old, low level of education, less source of income, large number of under aged children, and has part-time jobs. By those facts, it is clear that the government has to adopt policies to reduce socioeconomic inequality and poverty which are further than relocation of wealth, by creating quality jobs and reducing blind spots of social protection programs.

Facing challenges to empower women

Korea has low level of gender equality in terms of decision making initiatives. According to The Global Gender Gap Report of World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2011, Korea ranked 111th among 125 countries at legislators, senior officers, and managers, ranked 79th among 130 countries at women in parliaments, ranked 75th among 129 countries at women in ministerial positions. The government statistic showed that female ratio of government officer increased from 34% in 2003 to 41.8% in 2010 but female ratio of deputy director increased from 5.9% in 2003 to 9.0% in 2010. The government has propelled policies to promote female ratio, for example Women's Employment Target System (1998~2002), Gender Equality Employment Target System (2003~2007), System to Expand ratio of Women managers (2007~2011), and 40% of female participation at the government council. Korea adopted the Equal Employment Opportunity Law in 1989 and declared Affirmative Action to promote female recruitment, but according to Women on Boards Report in 2011, only 1.9% of women were on boards and 0% was at companies with at least three female directors. Right before 16th general election, the Political Party Law was amended to guarantee 30 % of female local council members and 50% of female parliament members for proportion representatives. The ratios of female representatives increased from 5.9% in 2000 to 13.7% in 2010 for parliaments and from 2.3% in 2000 to 20.3% in 2010 for local council.

In 2007, 49% of B.A. were female. However, the OECD Gender Wage Gaps research in 2009 said Korea recorded the widest gap of 38.9% between male and female which were double of OECD average. Korea women still suffer from sexual discrimination in political, social, economic representation and the government has to improve enthusiastic policies.

Challenges of Korean ODA Model

As an emerging donor, Korea reached many of OECD Peer reviews recommendation after join of OECD/DAC in 2010, but Korea faces challenges in tied/untied ODA ratio, ODA/GNI ratio, and aid for Least Developed Countries (LDC). The untied ODA ratio reached 70% in 2007 but down sized to 60% from the next year, and the ratio will be remained in the same for a while by ‘the Strategies for the Advancement of International Development’ of the government. Korea has assisted more ODA to the Lower Middle Income Countries (LMIC) rather than LDCs, because the purposes of Korea’s ODA are economic cooperation and energy resources of LMICs rather than humanitarian.

Korea’s aid structure is fragmented by Ministry of Foreign and Trade for untied aid and Ministry of Strategy and Finance for tied aid. Untied aid is scattered more by ODA budget of each ministry, local government and Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA). The DAC Peer review has raised awareness that the fragmentation is a key reason of aid ineffectiveness, duplication of ODA, and poor monitoring.

The government pushes ‘the Korean ODA model’ which is exporting Korea’s condensed economic growth policies to partner countries without recognizing the side effects of the growth. The model is criticized because it is in contrast to ownership of partner countries at the Paris Declaration.