Another death casts a dark light on the difficulties faced by overworked and exhausted mothers. A 34-year-old woman from South Korea recently died a week after returning to her 12-hour-a-day job from her maternity leave, reports The Straits Times. The mother of three, who passed the highest category of her country's highly competitive civil service exams, had suffered a heart attack (no details yet whether she suffered from a heart condition beforehand).
The report did not specify if the woman, who remains unnamed, spent all of her 90-day maternity leave benefits. She went back to work on a Saturday; she returned the following day at 5 a.m. so she could leave early and take care of her kids, according to her colleagues.
South Korean women need to work doubly hard in South Korea's male-dominated society. But they also have an added pressure to conceive. The country has a declining birth rate, and its maternity leave policy is but one of the many programs its Ministry of Health and Welfare has in place to encourage women to have lots of babies. It has yet to reverse the country's birth rate, though.
"South Korean women are expected to be modern career women at daytime and traditional housewives as soon as they go home in the evening... so why bother to get married?" Lee Na-young, a sociology professor at Chung-Ang University in Seoul told Channel News Asia. She added that the burden on working women is far heavier in the South than elsewhere.
"In this environment, I wouldn't be surprised even if more South Korean working mothers are exhausted to death," Lee said. "This trend among young women, called 'birth strike' or 'marriage strike.' is a very reasonable, rational choice for them to survive socially and economically," she added.
Kim Yu Mi, a 37-year-old information and technology engineer with two young daughters, says that the civil servant-mom who died is "the reality all working moms [face] across South Korea." Kim adds she is extremely lucky to be able to return to work; many employers often just tell the women who go on maternity leave to go home and never come back.
While Kim was able to go back to work, she had to work late hours until 9 p.m. to compensate for being absent but paid. "Sitting with my child to play and eat dinner together was an unimaginable dream," she shared, noting that reading her kids a bedtime story was impossible.
According to The Strait Times report, South Korea's health and welfare ministry has banned working on Saturdays and moved to discourage weekday overtime, in the wake of the civil servant's death.
This shocking news from our neighboring Asian country highlights the importance of providing vital support to working mothers. Here, in the Philippines, a bill that extends the maternity leave of new moms (moms are currently entitled to at least 60 days) still awaits approval from our lawmakers. Read here why we think it should be enacted into law soon.