UNFPA wants bigger contributions from Korea
Already a significant donor to international development aid, South Korea was asked last week by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for a bigger contribution.
"Korea has given some (to the UNFPA), but I think it can do more," said Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the UNFPA during a recent interview.
Osotimehin, in Seoul for a three day visit, followed Director-General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization Kandeh Yumkella a week before. Yumkella left Korea with two partnership agreements ― one with the government and the other with the Global Green Growth Institute ― which are both expected to help fund the organization's projects.
Overcoming poverty after the civil war of the 1950s, South Korea is now a fully committed development aid donor country. In 2010, it joined the Development Assistance Committee under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), which manages the nation's development aid, is expanding the size of its projects and number of recipient countries annually. Its budget last year was $373 million.
However, the executive director said his organization is not just after money.
Mandated to improve sexual and reproductive health, family planning, gender equality and to empower women in the developing world, the UNFPA is seeking to gain insight from Korea's experiences in these areas.
In fact, he proposed to KOICA a project to eliminate sex-selective abortion practice prevalent in Asia and some Eastern European states.
According to a study done by the UNFPA, as of 2005, the Asian population is absent an estimated 163 million women due to sex-selective abortion and other factors.
"This is a matter of human rights. In India, for example, we are beginning to see more men than women," Osotimehin said. "We believe that the experiences of Korea would be good to share with other parts of the world."
Sex-selective abortion in Korea is slowly declining. Traditionally, sons were preferred because they were wage earners and maintained the family line, while daughters often didn't work and were married off into other families.
The trend is changing.
One influential factor is economic growth that enables women to become educated and have careers. By earning money, they gain a bigger voice in families, and can support their parents even after marriage. In turn, parents are no longer only dependent on sons as the only caregiver when they get older.
If approved, KOICA and the UNFPA will conduct an extensive study on sex-selection abortion practices in India and China and brainstorm projects to end the practice.
"We'll be able to use examples of interventions in Korea to affect what's going on in other parts," the executive director said.
Korea still struggles with its own gender issues.
One outstanding issue is the under-representation of women in decision-making process in the society.
A recent article in Foreign Policy magazine ranked South Korea the second worst state at including women in politics.
"It is true that some of the worst countries for the representation of women in national government include democracies such as Japan (13.4 percent) and South Korea (14.7 percent), not to mention Hungary (8.8 percent)," wrote Valerie M. Hudson, a professor at Texas A&M University.
Another increasingly important problem is aging populations.
The birthrate here is just one baby per woman capable of having children, yet many people are living much longer thanks to medical advances.
The UNFPA acknowledges that this issue is prevalent in Asia ― Japan and Russia have the same problem ― and will release a study on the demographics of aging populations across Asia by the end of this year.
Osotimehin invited Korean lawmakers to the Istanbul Conference where 300 parliamentarians from around the world will review action plans for the International Conference on Population and Development at the end of this month. Rep. Ahn Hong-joon of Saenuri Party will lead the Korean delegation.
Founded in 1967, the UNFPA has five regional offices and six sub-regional offices in the field that help coordinate work in about 150 countries.
He stressed that the treatment of women is a fundamental indicator of how well a society functions. This echoes Professor Hudson who wrote, "The very best predictor of a state's peacefulness is not its level of wealth, its level of democracy or its ethno-religious identity. The best predictor of a state's peacefulness is how well its women are treated...On issues of national health, economic growth, corruption and social welfare, the best predictors are also those that reflect the situation of women."