Asiana Airline Scraps Skirts-only Policy for Female Crew: The Question of Gender Equality in the Workplace
It was announced on March 24th that female flight attendants of Asiana Airline, a Korean airline company, will be permitted to wear trousers on duty, following the National Human Rights Commission’s (NHRCK) recommendation that current dress code policies are gender discriminatory in February this year. The airline company’s labour union announced that it would “distribute uniform trousers to the cabin crew in order to expand the selection of choice and to ensure that there is no discomfort during work.”
While competing airline companies, such as Korean Air, have allowed female flight attendants to wear trousers on duty for several years, Asiana Airline has, until now, held onto its skirt-only policy, stating that it was in place “in order to emphasise the image of Korean beauty.” The company also claimed that the appearance and dress of flight attendants were part of the service provided to its passengers.
However, in continuing its dress policy, Asiana Airline faced heavy public criticism and accusation of human rights violations as the issue gained public attention during the last six months. Female cabin crew complained that wearing skirts on the cabin was impractical and interfered with their tasks on board. For instance, during both takeoff and landing, flight attendants must sit with their legs apart aligned to the width of their shoulders and in the case of an emergency landing, they may have to hold the passenger as they disembark. Wearing a skirt would make such duties difficult and uncomfortable.
In addition to discomfort during work, the skirts-only policy was accused of reinforcing societal discrimination against women, violating gender equality and the dignity of its female cabin staff. The NHRCK expressed “the concern that the uniform would cause the consolidation of the social prejudice emphasising the flight attendant’s sexuality rather than her profession.”
On a broader societal scale, this recent issue calls to question the status quo of gender discrimination in the Republic of Korea, particularly in the workplace. Not only are working women forced to conform to standards of dress and but they also face a number of disadvantages in the office based on their gender. It was reported by the OECD that there was a difference of 39%between the wages of men and women in Korea as of 2010. This would mean that for every $100 earned by male employees, their female counterparts would only receive $61. In addition to meager pay, women receive fewer opportunities for promotion, being confined to doing menial tasks like making coffee and photocopies. Out of the 33 OECD countries, Korea had the widest gender inequality gap, 2.6 times the average rate.
With the Republic of Korea seen as a model of economic growth and democracy to underdeveloped countries, such a humiliating display of gender inequality and discrimination should be out of the question. This calls for more strident measures against discriminatory societal notions and working conditions that disadvantage female workers in the country. Governmental departments and civil organisations must cooperate to closely scrutinize work policies of businesses in the ROK and monitor their treatment of female employees, starting with large companies like Asiana Airline. Also, gender equality in the workplace must be promoted rigorously through stronger policies, raising awareness, providing education for men as well as women in the workplace and encouraging female employees to speak up and participate in women’s trade union activities. The public outrage over the skirts-only policy and its effectual removal marks only the beginning of the transformation that must take place in Korea. Consistent effort must be made if gender equality is to be declared out of fashion once and for all.