[OUTLOOK]Han gives hope to Korea’s daughtersFemale politicians are making headlines around the world. Germany selected its first-ever female chancellor last year, and this year women have been elected to the top post in South America, Europe and Africa. If prime minister-designate Han Myeong-sook is confirmed by the National Assembly, a female premier will assume the office for the first time in Korean history.
Considering the slow pace of gender equality and the development of the democratic political system, the symbolic meaning of a female prime minister and the expectations for her must be extraordinary. At this point, however, we should calmly contemplate why a female prime minister was appointed and what the citizens should expect.
The female politicians abroad in leadership positions earned the trust of their citizens. They didn’t win their position due to a gender-based appointment or in an effort to satisfy female voters. We should be wary that the ruling party will use Ms. Han’s appointment by the president as a way to help them in the upcoming local elections.
It would be a pity if a political maneuver or experiment tarnished the hard-earned opportunity for female representation.
The media coverage on Ms. Han mostly emphasizes her female gentleness and tolerance. Perhaps they are comparing her favorably to her predecessor, who was known for frequent disputes due to his high-minded attitude. However, the media might pressure Ms. Han by stressing the symbolic meaning of a female prime minister more than her political conviction and capability to hold the job.
The reason that politicians exist is so that representatives can speak for citizens with conviction in order to heal the deep-rooted fundamental ills of a country. Despite the mixed evaluations on her general economic policies, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher could treat the so-called “British disease” because she steadfastly pursued what the citizens wanted without worrying about the opinions of her political party.
The appointment of a female prime minister should be more than just a recognition of the political strength of women in Korea. What we expect of Ms. Han is that her political ability and state administration experience will encourage many young Korean women to pursue a career in politics.
Not many Korean women chose politics as their career, not because of lack of ability but because they came to abhor the rampant political power struggles and did not have female role models.
According to a report by the World Economic Forum, women are more pacifistic than men, and therefore, it is better for women to be in charge of peace-keeping activities in a country that has experienced war.
While no guns were involved, the division and feuds in Korean society during the last few years has resembled a war. As we clear up the scraps of the discords, now is the time for women to become actively involved in politics, and I hope the appointment of a female prime minister will work as a catalyst.
As Ms. Han could be the last prime minister in the Roh Administration, her role might be limited. If Ms. Han gets closer to the citizens when she conducts state affairs rather than remaining close to the people of her political party, she will be able to fix the troubles hidden deep inside Korean society.
Britain had Ms. Thatcher to cure the British disease, and the Germans are pinning their hopes on Angela Merkel, the youngest and first female chancellor in their history.
Just as Ms. Han has proclaimed, it is important to give hope to the daughters of Korea. However, she should not limit herself here but should work to become the “prime minister for all citizens” with sincerity and enthusiasm to treat the sarcasm which prevails in our society and the Korean disease.
* The writer is a professor of business administration at Ewha Woman's University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kang Hye-ryun