Seoul Tries to Address Women's Concerns with Parking, Amenities

As part of the Seoul government's effort to make the city more accessible for women, it has created thousands of parking spaces just for women. But some critics say that the project makes only superficial changes and does not really make the city safer or more convenient for anyone.

◆ Pink Parking Lots

Like most modern metropolises, traffic in downtown Seoul is often bumper to bumper and parking is scarce. That is one reason Seo Yoon-jung says she does not like driving here. "Going to downtown, City Hall area, do you know how many times I drive there, none, zero, because there are no parking spots," Seo said. For Seo and other women, the city of Seoul is trying to fix that problem.

The government has created tens of thousands so-called pink parking spots. They are just for women and are located near the entrances of most public parks and buildings.

◆ Female Parking First

At the entrance to a parking lot near City Hall, Seo grabs a ticket from the automated machine, which allows her car to enter. She immediately spots a sign. "Oh, it says, female parking first," Seo said. She soon finds a parking spot, outlined in pink, a skirt-wearing stick figure painted on the pavement. She pulls in.

It is not illegal for men to park in these spaces. Unlike spots reserved for disabled motorists, male drivers can take them if nothing else is available. But in Korea there is a feeling that women are not good drivers. And they need a little extra help when parking their cars. "In fact, I think it's wider, and I can see, when I look at it I really couldn't tell, but when actually I parked there, considering the space between the cars, I think it's wider and it's easier," Seo said. Pink parking spots are not the only changes that Seoul is making for women.

◆ Other Changes Target Women

Around town, old uneven sidewalks are being replaced with smooth tiles that are easier for women in high heels to walk on. And in subway stations, new women's restrooms are being built closer to police boxes. These are all a part of the city's Women Friendly program, which began earlier this year.

Cho Eun-hee is Seoul's assistant mayor for women and family affairs. Cho says the women's restrooms and the sidewalks were made because the city is concerned about the comfort of women here. She says these projects are improving the quality of life for women and making the city more comfortable. But, the pink parking spots seem to be getting the most attention. Cho adds the city is also creating more daycare centers for working moms and putting more female taxi drivers on the streets late at night.

◆ Reinforcing Stereotypes?

But some critics say the Women Friendly program reinforces stereotypical images of women. Kim Eun-shil lectures in women's studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. "A lot of women cannot wear high heals at work. I think this program should expand the image of woman or should expand the category of woman, but they are really co-opting or collaborating with the traditional or commercialized image of women," Kim said.

Kim says despite many advances in women's equality in recent years, there are still concerns that are not being sufficiently addressed by the government. "But these days actually, sexual violence, or violence itself is not politically taken seriously. Economy I think is sweeping all social issues in Korea," Kim said. "Everybody is saying that a job is more important than violence." And Kim says Seoul's Women Friendly City program, while well-intended, does not go far enough to resolve these issues.

VOA News / Nov. 25, 2009 08:22 KST