Seoul To Sole: How To Make Women Happy? Make Streets Safe For HeelsS

The South Korean city of Seoul has decided to become women-friendly. Which means, obviously, pink parking spots for heel-wearers. After all, "Happy Women, Happy Seoul!" And nothing makes us happier than pink! But there's more:

The Women Friendly Seoul Project, as detailed tartly by Time's Veronica Zaragovia, was the brainchild of Mayor Oh Se Hoon, and it's as bizarre as it is ambitious. Some of it is great: employment opportunities for women, "safe parks" for women, day-care centers, and women's taxi services and, not incidentally, more ladies' rooms. But apparently considered just as important are the pink parking spots (which, incidentally, rank a woman in heels as on a par with the physically handicapped) and paving streets - for heels. (It's unclear to me whether "improving lighting in public spaces" serves a safety or a cosmetic purpose.) In sum, says the official spearheading the program, they'll be targeting "the inconveniences, anxiety and discomfort that women in Seoul experience on a daily basis."

But while some of these things are big steps, it says a lot about a country that a woman's physical safety is regarded as no more important than her walk to the mall in heels - and that said heels are, implicitly, encouraged. It's too little too late for many Korean feminists: this is, after all, a country where at least 1 in 25 women is thought to work in a sex industry to which the government turns a blind eye, and where until very recently a strict patriarchal system was in place; even today, it's much harder for a woman to obtain a divorce than a man. Only half the country's female population have jobs, and those who do are subject to grueling schedules that make no allowances for children or family. As Zaragovia tells it, most women would rather have more childcare options than pink parking spaces. But others, says Jiyeon Lee of the Global Post, are happy for any quality of life improvements; one worker says approvingly, that because they're not going to change the country in a day, "I think it's so much better to invest in something that helps us in a practical way," like the parking spots.

A list Forbes just put out of "The Best Cities For Working Mothers," which evaluated things like medical care, cost of living, and high salaries, is an interesting counterpoint. While no one would claim that the U.S. is nirvana for the working mom - ideally, you wouldn't need to isolate a few cities - there is, increasingly, a sense of what's expected. Safety and childcare are coming to be considered rights, not privileges. And perhaps what's worrisome about the Seoul initiative is the sense that "women" are an issue separate from "citizens," who will be placated by the chance to wear heels and see more pink. If "happy women" -aka, women who aren't being assaulted in parks? - make for happy Seoul (otherwise, one supposes, the nagging harpies make men's life sitcom-horrible) then maybe they should ask women what would contribute to their well-being. Oh wait, I was just distracted by something pink.

Will High-Heel-Friendly Streets Keep Seoul's Women Happy? [Time]
The Best Cities For Working Mothers [Forbes]
Creating A Women-Friendly Seoul [GlobalPost]
The Best Cities For Working Mothers [Forbes]

Sex Trade Accounts For 1.6% Of GDP
[KWDI]
Ex-Prostitutes Say South Korea and U.S. Enabled Sex Trade Near Bases [NY Times]

Korea's 'Crackdown Culture' - Now It's Brothels
[Asia Times]