[FORUM]Politics is not the LPGAThe success of Korean female golf players on the LPGA Tour is a source of pride for many Koreans. There always seems to be at least six or seven Koreans among the top 10 finishers. In the recent Nabisco Championship, first, second and fourth places were all taken by Korean golfers.
Golf is not a national sport like taekwondo or even a popular one like jogging in Korea. So why is it that even Korean girls in their teens are doing so well as professional golfers?
Women have also surfaced in Korea as poster girls for what has traditionally been a man’s game: politics. Park Geun-hye was elected to lead the Grand National Party, which was the majority party in the just-concluded National Assembly. The second-largest party, the Millennium Democrats, has chosen Choo Mi-ae as its chief campaign manager at the cost of alienating its own chairman, Chough Soon-hyung.
People are talking about this being an era of woman power. The hasty ones are even demanding that privileges given to women to encourage gender equity should be withdrawn now that women seem to have seized as much, if not more, power than men.
Women have now taken over the last fortress, politics, so what is left to point to as a bastion of discrimination?
It is true that for some time now, women have been the official spokeswomen for the three biggest political parties in our country. More women have been publicly nominated for the new Assembly, to be elected in April, than at any other time in Korean history. As of March 24, 4.5 percent of the candidates for local constituencies registered with the four major political parties were women, up from 3.2 percent four years ago.
Women are expected to get at least half the seats allocated to proportional representation. The first names on the list of the candidates for proportional representation are all women.
There are 610,000 more women registered as voters for the legislative elections than men. Now, with the two biggest parties effectively led by women, it is not surprising that some people should feel that women no longer deserve any special treatment.
Is this really the case? I believe that had the Grand National Party kept its former popularity, Park Geun-hye would never have had the chance to become chairwoman. Remember when Ms. Park bolted from the Grand National Party to form her own party? In a recent interview, even she admitted, “The Grand National Party has hit bottom. There as never been such a crisis for the party. I was chosen because of the crisis.”
Had the Millennium Democratic Party not led the disastrous impeachment drive against President Roh Moo-hyun with the assistance of the Grand National Party, it would not have so readily given the position of de-facto chairwoman to Ms. Choo.
In a statement at a news conference accepting the campaign-manager position, Ms. Choo said she felt her choice had only possible because her party was in “a desperate situation where the people and the heavens had deserted us.”
Women were initially mobilized in the political sector for pork-barrel purposes. Over time, the motive changed to a need to make a politically correct picture. Now, women are being called to fill the empty blanks left by men.
When the Roh Tae-woo administration first created the office of a second minister without profile to take care of issues related to women, it was merely a move to get a ministerial seat permanently fixed for women and win their approval. The Kim Young-sam government appointed one female minister after another to head other ministries for short-lived terms in an attempt to make its cabinet look more gender-balanced.
Although nothing came out of it, the Kim Dae-jung government’s nomination of a woman for prime minister toward the end of its term was the beginning of the mobilization of women to generate more public attention to politics, which men had left for dead. In a premature lame-duck situation, the Kim Dae-jung government desperately needed some solder to keep the ship from sinking altogether.
In a way, women employed as props to tide over a difficult situation or reverse an unfavorable political situation are an improvement over women being called upon for the sake of appearance, as in former days.
Likewise, mobilizing women to give an appearance of gender equity was better than giving them pork-barrel appointments. Having at least some women in public seats, pork-barrel or not, is better than having no women in the government at all.
Nevertheless, the present fad of employing women because, and only because, the men botched up is merely a temporary one. Organizations have an uncanny ability to return to the status quo once the elements of disturbance are gone. Not even the most capable of leaders can change the structure of nature of an organization in a short time.
The fact that the two biggest opposition parties have chosen women to lead them is nothing more than a belated acknowledgement from male politicians that women have the same level of capability as they do. It does not mean that they are ready to share their power with women, far less give women a chance to take the reins for good. Political parties are not the LPGA.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Hong Eun-hee