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Creating a women-friendly Seoul

Can pink parking spots, high heel-suitable sidewalks and 28,000 new jobs reduce gender inequality?

Seoul is creating priority parking spaces for women as part of its "Women-Friendly Seoul" project. (Jiyeon Lee/GlobalPost)

SEOUL — Women in Seoul may soon have the luxury of pulling into parking spots marked with bright pink lines and pink figures wearing skirts, while men are left to station themselves in dark and less convenient corners.

These pink fixtures — which are starting to pop up around the city and which most people are not aware of yet — are part of an effort to create a safer environment for women after a crime wave hit the country, as well as part of a broader movement called "Women-Friendly Seoul."

The Seoul city government has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to the four-year project to transform the city into one in which women feel "happy."

The ambitious plan encompasses a mix of cosmetic and far-reaching changes, some requiring large expenditures, others more visually startling than fiscally demanding.

It proposes to create 28,000 jobs for women who abandoned their careers because of childcare or marriage. The jobs vary from office workers to hairdressers and women can receive training at city-provided education centers.

Other aspects of the plan are geared toward making women feel comfortable in the city by renovating public restrooms, redoing sidewalks to make them "high heel suitable" and creating more nursery schools.

"By renovating public facilities to make them more women-friendly, we hope that other private companies will follow and make people think differently about women," said Han Mi-ae, a city official on the Seoul project.

But some men are not happy. And men and women alike question whether it is the best use of funds.

In a pink-lined public parking lot in the Gwangjin district of Seoul, a man stood at the back of his sport utility vehicle parked between pink lines. He said he didn’t know about the female-priority parking.

"I know what the disabled mark is. I mean that's obvious, but I haven’t heard about this," he said when asked about the pink lines and pink figure in a skirt painted on the ground.

"If I'm forced to park on the second underground level because women have taken up the rest, I don’t really think it's fair,” he said. “At the least, I’ll be using up more gas."

The man did not want to give his name out of fear that he might have broken the law. In fact, even though women have priority for pink slots, men are allowed to park if there are enough free spaces. Nonetheless, the manager of the parking lot said he has received a lot of complaints from male drivers.

The Gwangjin district is one of the first to implement Seoul's new model for female parking zones. It has completed painting all public parking areas and is encouraging private establishments such as department stores to do the same.