Keeping silent on sexual harassment

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Keeping silent on sexual harassment

The author is a lawyer and deputy political news editorat the JoongAng Ilbo.

“I will do my best as the first female vice speaker of the National Assembly to help bring gender equality in our society,” said four-term lawmaker Kim Sang-hee as she took the post on June 5. The first female vice speaker of the legislature is a landmark event for women’s politics in Korea since Im Yong-sin (1900-1977) was elected a lawmaker in 1949.

Many female lawmakers were elected to the 21st National Assembly, yet it is far less than the OECD average of 28.8 percent as of 2017. Currently, 57 lawmakers, or 19 percent of our 300 lawmakers, are women. And 28 are with the ruling Democratic Party (DP).

The change of the situation may make the female speaker a natural development, but it did not happen so easily. It is a feat for female lawmakers and the DP’s efforts. During the nomination process, Rep. Nam In-soon, a third-term lawmaker and a member of DP’s leadership council, and other female lawmakers demanded a 30 percent quota for female candidates. In the nomination screening committee, many female DP lawmakers persistently called for sole nominations for female candidates.

The efforts the former women’s right activists showed in the process were surprising. Kim had headed Women’s Link and Nam was the head of the Korean Women’s Association United. Rep. Jeong Chun-sook led the Korea Women’s Hot Line and Rep. Jin Sun-mee served as the minister of gender equality in the Moon Jae-in administration.

These passionate people are silent in the aftermath of the death of Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon despite allegations made against him of sexual harassment. They also remained silent on the sexual harassment case of former Busan Mayor Oh Keo-don in April and the sexual assault case of former South Chungcheong governor Ahn Hee-jung. Those who raised the need for investigation were non-mainstream party members like Park Yong-jin and Kim Hae-young, both male.

By remaining silent, the female lawmakers chose “loyalty” to former mayor Park over the identity they carved on their resumes. What meaning can female voters find from their moves using “women’s rights” as a brand? Compared to their silence, I find it easier to interpret DP Chairman Lee Hae-chan’s mentality to curse at a reporter who asked about the party’s position on the Seoul mayor’s sexual allegations.
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