Chapter 13: Gender and welfare states in East Asia: women between tradition and equality
East Asia has achieved rapid economic development since the 1960s and1970s. With the remarkable economic development, some countries have also gone through major social change. This has brought some social benefits to women, such as increasing their participation in the labour market, lengthening their life expectancy and instigating gender equality legislation. Despite such positive changes, women still face inequalities with in the family and society, including the gender pay gap and the unequal time they spend on unpaid work. Although many scholars have debated on the distinctive features of East Asian welfare states (see Chapters 1 and 10 of this volume), an exploration of the welfare systems of East Asian countries from a gender perspective is yet to be carried out. This chapter thus examines the gendered assumptions of welfare states in East Asian countries by paying particular attention to women’s experiences of unpaid care work. With regard to traditions, Confucianism has long been considered as an important cultural heritage in East Asia. While some positive aspects of Confucian culture encouraged the achievement of rapid economic growth, others augmented a patriarchal structure in business and society which may have resulted in unequal gender relations. Confucianism lays down clear traditional gender roles within the family, such as married women’s responsibility for their parents-in-law and women’s subordination to men (Sung, 2003).
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