There’s an article in The Korea Times today that actually has a few meaningful things to say about paternity leave in this country.
I didn’t even dare to ask for a three-day unpaid vacation following my daughter’s birth.
That’s right, many fathers don’t feel secure enough in their jobs to take off three days for the birth of their own child. I’m not sure if this is the same everywhere, but the way it works at Mr. Lee’s company is that you technically get three days off – but weekends are included in these three days. So, say your wife goes into labour on Friday afternoon (and you choose to be with her during labour), you are expected to be back at work on Monday bright and early because hey – you got Saturday and Sunday ‘off’ right? During my time in Korea, six of my Western coworkers (all male) have had children born here. I can’t exactly remember each individual situation, but I don’t think most of them took three full working days off either. In fact, one coworker elected to come to work while his wife was in labour because he was worried about raising the ire of our managers. Conversely, another coworker’s wife scheduled her C-section to coincide with a 5 day public holiday so that her husband could take more time off without upsetting management. I know there are many factors which make the C-section rate incredibly high here, but I have often wondered if there are any stats available for how many women schedule their surgeries for Fridays or the day before public holidays for just this purpose.
“Korea has established a range of effective policies aimed at boosting its birthrate, including the provision of paternity leave. Its policies are on par with those of advanced countries. But the problem is that we do not put them into practice,” said Lee Sam-sik, director of the Low Fertility and Population Aging Division at the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs.
This is such an important point. So often I read about how laws need to be changed, but in the case of parental leave, Korea already has laws in place. The problem with paternity leave and women being fired/pushed out/having their lives made a living hell at work for taking leave or even being pregnant, is that employers do not follow the law. The company is first, and more importantly, the boss’ feelings come first. If the boss is ‘traditional’ or ‘conservative’ (and because the boss is always older, he – usually he – often is), the idea that a woman would even come back to work, or that a man might want to spend time as a primary caregiver is often a ridiculous notion. In this society, the law is not as important as the individual boss’s feelings on the matter.
I plan to bring the NYT article on Swedish SAHDs to my seminar class for our parenthood module in a couple of months. The most important thing I got from that article is that if gender equality and families are important to society, the government does not only need to offer companies and workers incentives to take parental leave, the government also has to make disincentives for men not taking time off or companies making work environments which discourage taking leave. I can’t imagine how that would happen in Korea, but it would be interesting to see how businesses might change if they or their workers were penalized for not encouraging both parents to take some time off following the birth of a child or in the first few years of a child’s life.
Which leads to the last important point brought up in the article.
“CEOs should change their perception toward childbirth and childcare. It is their duty as Korean citizens to help increase birthrates and nurture future human resources…”
Korea’s ‘Miracle of the Han’ – or rise from one of the most destitute countries in the world after the Korean War, to one of the major players in the 21st century – came about by 1) damn hard work on the backs of Korean workers and 2) creating a mindset where working for and loyalty to a Korean company was linked to raising the fortunes of the nation. I personally do not want to see an enormous increase in the birth rate because I think we are overpopulated. However, the birth rate does need to rise to a certain degree, and more importantly, more emphasis needs to be placed on the well-being of family. Work is important and Korean companies are important for the good of the Korean nation. However, too much has been sacrificed in family life for the good of the company (because the good of the company was supposed to improve the wellbeing of the nation). The mindset has to change. Children are the future of the country, and there needs to be a better balance between work and family life. If the discourse can change from the good of the company = the good of the nation, to the company which fosters a family friendly environment = the good of the nation, I think we could go a long way in solving many pressing issues in our country.