Taking On an Issue Important to All KoreansHan Myeong-sook, the newly appointed head of the Ministry of Gender Equality, has devoted herself to helping poor women and advocating their rights since the 1970s. She entered politics about the same time that the Millennium Democratic Party, currently in power, was formed. An outspoken advocate of women's rights, she was imprisoned in 1979 for two years for her involvement with a Christian academy to democratize the government. She recently spoke with JoongAng Ilbo about her goals and vision for achieving gender equality in Korea.
JAI: How do you feel about being appointed minister?
Han: I feel a bit burdened about being the first minister to work in a newly formed ministry. I strongly believe that gender issues concern not only women, but men as well and that the future of our society greatly depends on solving the problems related to this issue. From now on, the Ministry of Gender Equality will strive to promote change, and it is our goal to be at the forefront of shaping a better future for the nation.
JAI: Some people worry that unlike other government organizations, which are based on the functions they perform, the Ministry of Gender Equality is less oriented to function and only gender specific. What is your opinion on this?
Han: The Ministry of Gender Equality exists for all gender problems, such as gender inequality or sexual harassment. The ministry will take a strong initiative in resolving such problems.
JAI: Is the ministry organized well enough to accomplish all of its plans?
Han: I cannot say that the ministry is perfect, since it is still in its beginning stages. However, the ministry will do all that it can within the boundaries of present government organizational law. In the near future, however, there should be more discussions and agreements on how the ministry can be developed further.
JAI: What do you intend to do about other government organizations' policies on gender issues?
Han: I want to emphasize the fact that the Ministry of Gender Equality was at one time the Special Committee on Women's Affairs.
Now, however, as our own ministry we are equal in status to other ministries and organizations and can discuss and confer with our counterparts on equal terms. Through consistent gender policies, the ministry will try to enhance smooth working relations with the other organizations.
JAI: What do you think about the current status of Korean women?
Han: Over the last ten years, some laws and systems related to gender equality have been established. Korea, however, has a long way to go. While a lot of Korean women are still suffering from gender discrimination, it is a relief to see that gender issues are gaining a lot of attention these days and I see a brighter future for Korean women.
JAI: You majored in Women's Studies during college and ever since then have been actively promoting women's rights. What motivated you to become interested in gender equality?
Han: At first, I was interested in underprivileged people in general, but somehow I realized that gender discrimination was the most serious inequality of all in our society. This realization motivated me.
Han was born in Pyongyang (North Korea) in 1944. She has a master's degree in Women's Studies from Ewha Womans University. She is a member of the National Assembly (16th) and chairwoman of the Millennium Democratic Party.
by Lee Eun-ju