Bringing Together Research, Civil Society, and Policy Communities to Advance the Policy Discussion on Care in South Korea

/ / South Korea

Close up of Hyun Lim LeeHyun Lim Lee, kindergarten teacher and organizer for the Childcare Workers Chapter of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, stood in front of the room full of civil society organization representatives and Korean and international researchers.  She is passionate about her job as a kindergarten teacher and passionate about the need to improve working conditions for caregivers in South Korea. She told the group about the challenges she faces as a kindergarten teacher, explaining how the high child-to-caregiver ratio and long hours without breaks make it difficult to provide quality care.  She shared how low pay and poor benefits have made it challenging to attract and retain early education teachers in the country.  Lee is one of 35 participants who came together on February 25, 2019 in Seoul, South Korea to kick-off a new project led by Care Work and the Economy (CWE-GAM) and its partner Seoul National University (SNU). The event brought together organizations working to support the power of care workers in South Korea with researchers from academia and the government to discuss the issues and challenges in getting care on the policy agenda to promote informed policies that enhance the quality of life of both those providing and receiving care.

Society Cannot Exist Without Care. The Economy Cannot Exist Without Care.

As Ito Peng, Professor at the University of Toronto, stressed at the February 25 kick-off conference: “Society cannot exist without care. The economy cannot exist without care.”  Caring for children, the elderly, and other dependents is a vital form of work that sustains human existence, enhances individual and broader societal well-being, and promotes sustainable development. Despite producing tremendous benefits for individuals, families, and communities, care work is enormously undervalued.  Peng’s concluding remarks at the conference highlighted how “we often say care is invisible, but what care workers shared with us at today’s conference shows that care is actually very visible – care is being provided all the time – it is just something people refuse to see.” This leaves paid formal caregivers, like Hyun Lim Lee, feeling underfunded and overstretched. And informal family caregivers, who are mostly women in South Korea and around the world, are left struggling to balance their care responsibilities with working conditions and career paths that tend to ignore other, non-work obligations.

CWE-GAM, a network of over 35 researchers, is producing new data and empirical evidence and developing policy tools to advance our understanding of care work, care arrangements, and policy impacts on growth, distribution, and gender equality in South Korea.  The project has undertaken a national survey of paid care workers (600 respondents) that includes a 24-hour time use diary, a nationally representative household survey of families responsible for caring for children and/or elderly (1,000 respondents), and in-depth interviews with caregivers and care recipients (90 respondents).  The research will provide rich information on paid caregivers – illuminating their working conditions, well-being, and providing detail on the types of activities they undertake.  The research also will provide robust data on families in South Korea and how they arrange, provide, and share care responsibilities within the household.  A signature output of this work is the development of new macroeconomic tools to guide decisions on fiscal policies and public investments to reduce and redistribute unpaid care work. The project will use our new data in conjunction with existing data to develop a macroeconomic model of South Korea that incorporates care to allow for a more comprehensive understanding of how specific social and economic policies impact economic, welfare and distributional outcomes.

To ensure that this research is used to inform policy design, implementation, and evaluation, CWE-GAM’s new project will convene civil society organizations, researchers, and policymakers over the next year.  The first conference on February 25 developed a strong dialogue between care and women’s rights focused civil society organizations, the broader research community in South Korea, and researchers concerned with issues of care and women’s and care workers’ rights internationally.  Representatives from more than 12 civil society organizations and researchers from four distinct universities as well as institutions like IOM Migration Research and Training Centre, Korea Women’s Development Institute, Korea Institute of Child Care and Education, and Population Association of Korea spent the day together to articulate and better understand the challenges facing South Korea in providing quality care as well as the challenges care workers face, ranging from issues related to well-being in their jobs to job and income insecurity.

The meeting was an incredible first-step in a long-term commitment to bring together research, civil society, and policy communities to advance the policy discussion on care in South Korea.  Over the next year, the CWE-GAM team, led by SNU, will convene several small group workshops around the country and will host two more interactive conferences as well as a high-profile policy dialogue in Seoul in the Spring of 2020.  The aim of the engagement is to:

    1. Support the strategic use of our research and build the capacity of groups to use research more effectively;
    2. Provide insights into the production of our research outputs and research-based materials; and
    3. Share research findings, policy recommendations, and strengthen relationships among groups and between the civil society, research, and policy communities;

The project aims to build connections among and between these communities. The hope is that working collaboratively to ensure we are producing the data and research needed by those on the frontlines working to change policy and practice will lead to more informed policies that better address the needs to those providing and receiving care.

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