Assistant Mayor of Women
and Family Affairs
By Kwon Mee-yoo
Seoul City introduced parking lots marked with pink lines giving priority to women in April, with wider spaces, brighter lights and CCTVs to ensure the safety and convenience of female drivers as part of the city's ``Women Friendly Seoul'' project.
Cho Eun-hee, the assistant mayor of Women and Family Affairs at the Seoul Metropolitan Government, is the woman leading Seoul to become more livable, convenient, safe and enjoyable, not just for women, but also for children, youths, the elderly and the disabled.
``As more women engage themselves in social life, their desire to improve the quality of life and demand for public support is increasing,'' said Cho, the highest-ranking female official in the local government, heading six divisions with some 950 staff.
Cho's main priority is operating the ``Women Friendly Seoul'' project, which aims to make Seoul a city where women can live happily.
The birth of the project dates back to when Oh Se-hoon was mayor of Seoul. At a meeting with female city officials, a woman complained that women's heels often got stuck in cracks in the sidewalk in front of city hall.
``Mayor Oh then realized that women's happiness in the city means something more than just achieving gender equality,'' Cho explained. ``He named the project himself and cares much about its progress.''
The project was first launched in July 2007 with a budget of 513 billion won ($408 million) for use until 2010. An additional 221 billion won was injected this year alone in the hope that more citizens would actually be impacted by the project in their daily lives, bringing the total budget for four years to 708 billion won.
Cho took over the position last May and has been working on 90 small projects ― 60 ongoing and 30 new ― in five sections of caring, job, safety, convenience and sufficiency.
``Even small considerations can change the city to be more women-friendly,'' she said. ``Urban design was focused on males since they were the sole breadwinners. For example, the hand straps on buses were previously adjusted to a male's average height but we changed the height of the straps so more women can hold on to them easily.''
The city designated nine major priorities this year to maximize the visible effect of the project, including women-friendly roads, Seoul-style nursery schools, pink parking lots for females and more female toilets.
``It is like adding a female touch to a universal design and make things more comfortable for women,'' Cho said.
The women-friendly road project will reduce cracks so that high-heels will not get stuck. Also, the roads will be equipped with resting places and CCTVs. The total length of the path will reach 51 kilometers by the end of the year.
``The needs of women can vary according to one's age or marital status. We try to meet the needs of each group,'' Cho said.
The Seoul-style Nursery School project is meant to satisfy working moms who need a place that can care for their children.
According to Cho, there are 5,600 nurseries in Seoul, but only 650 of them are public ones. Public day care centers are much more popular than private ones because they are cheaper, have good facilities and qualified teachers.
To provide better care for children, Seoul City certifies private nurseries that meet standards as Seoul-style nursery schools and sponsors them. These certified nurseries have IPTVs so parents can watch their children from work and look up information on ingredients used for meals.
``The certification began in May and it is too early to talk about the outcome,'' she said. ``It seems successful now, as more children are registered at the Seoul nurseries and other day-care centers are waiting to get certification. We will maintain the quality of these nurseries by continuous supervision and reduce the burden on dual-income families.''
Busan also plans to start a similar system and the government will observe the progress and consider the possibility of expanding the system nationwide.
The ``Women Friendly Seoul'' team cooperates with various city divisions. Other than public servants, who are responsible for 90 activities of the project, there are 280 creativity facilitators (CFs) in each division and other city-sponsored organizations.
``We cannot promote and come up with ideas for the project by ourselves, so we work with the CFs and citizens, who are the actual brain,'' Cho said. ``We are just the control tower supervising the project and trying to make all divisions of the city more women-friendly.''
In addition to these government officials, there are 190 project ``partners.'' The group is composed of experts in gender women's studies and led by Ewha Womans University President Lee Bae-yong.
In each district, 100 women, from housewives to feminism specialists, are chosen as Women Friendly Seoul forum members, a local network to devise ideas and review the progress of the project.
Seoul Oasis, Seoul City's Web site, is another source of ideas where the public can share their suggestions on how to make the city better. Some 670 ideas came in this year, including 150 from citizens and 520 from city officials.
``This is a good example of citizen governance,'' Cho said. ``The forum members now have strong sense of consciousness as they directly participate in the administration process.''
Since it is not common for a city to take the lead in making itself more women-friendly, the project is drawing attention internationally. Seoul Foundation of Women and Family held a forum presenting the achievements of the ``Women Friendly Seoul'' project at United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) in March.
Another forum, the Metropolis Women International Network Forum, will be held in Seoul in October to discuss the project.
Happy City for All
Cho often takes women-friendly call taxis when she goes home late at night. This system lets a designated person track the passenger through text messages. ``It notifies information such as the taxi number and where I took the cab to my family immediately. I feel much safer this way,'' she said.
As a housewife, she is waiting for the practical use of garbage disposal, which allows food waste to be shredded through the sink drain. ``It is very bothersome to take out food waste everyday. It's wet and smells bad,'' she said. The plan to introduce food waste disposals to Korea is on the way after the Ministry of Environment recently changed its policy.
Some of the projects, such as providing niche market jobs for housewives who have nursing or teaching licenses, could be executed immediately, while others need time to be actualized.
``We are going to build a Female Health Promotion Town to provide a one-stop service for everything regarding women's health. This will take years to submit, to get budget approval for, and build the facility,'' she said. ``It is like we have to wait for steaming rice. We have all the ingredients ready, we put them into the rice-cooker and have turned it on. We have to wait until the rice is fully-cooked.''
Some people complain that there is no ``Men Friendly Seoul'' but only female-friendly policies. Cho emphasized that this project is not solely for women but applying a woman's point of view for the cities' policies.
``The ultimate idea of `Women Friendly Seoul' is that when a woman is happy, everyone is happy. It is not like women taking men's share of the pie,'' Cho said. ``When equipped with hardware ― social facilities considering women ― and software ― the caring mind of women ― Seoul can truly be women-friendly. A woman's happiness is a barometer of society's happiness.''