Will Aiding Soles In Seoul Help or Hurt Women?

When you’re wearing high heels, the last thing you want to do is walk a long distance from your parking space to the store. Well, frankly, the last thing you want to do is walk at all, which is kind of impossible. But the city of Seoul in South Korea is all over this one with its Women Friendly Seoul Project, a plan to turn the city in a more heel-friendly place. Sounds pretty awesome, huh?

The city plans to paint close to 5,000 public parking spaces pink to reserve them for women. Other measures are being taken as well to improve the overall quality of life for women in the city. The program will pave streets to make them more high-heel friendly, improve lighting, build additional women’s public restrooms, create safe parks for women, add more public day-care centers, and expand an already-existing women’s taxi service. By 2010, the city’s transformation into a so-called women-friendly haven will be complete.

While these improvements may help reduce the frustration of everyday inconveniences for women in Seoul, they will probably not foster gender equality, which is a hot-button issue in South Korea that the government has had limited success in addressing. In fact, these efforts just might undermine women’s attempts to compete in a male-dominated society.

Improving lighting in public spaces, building more public restrooms, and creating more public day-care centers are undoubtedly necessary services in Seoul; they have to do with public safety and improving conditions so that women can work. However, the issue of the pink parking spaces doesn’t sit very well with me. As much as I’m sure we would all love to have parking preference close to the store, why should we lose our dignity to do it? Creating these parking spaces reinforces the notion that women are second-class citizens in need of a boost in society. And, really, do the city officials in Seoul think that parking spaces painted pink will elevate women in a male-dominated culture?

What women in South Korea need are opportunities. They need more choices for childcare and other aid that will allow women to enter and stay in the labor market. They need real help that doesn’t put women down in the process. But this issue doesn’t just end at Seoul’s city limits; if governments around the world are going to launch initiatives to help women, they need to be more substantial than a painting project.

Intern Diaries: Wrapping Up
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