Gender Equality Ministry threatened as PPP candidate calls for its scrapping
Yoon Suk-yeol, presidential candidate of the People Power Party (PPP), raised controversy by calling to scrap the Gender Equality Ministry in a Facebook post Saturday, as gender politics is emerging as an issue splitting young voters in the election.
Addressing criticism about its role and necessity, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family said Monday that it is discussing renaming itself to reflect a strengthening of youth policy.
The ministry plans to discuss ways to include "youth" in its name and plans to collect opinions from the younger generation and officials in the field.
The ministry said, "We will make this year the year of youth policy transformation and strengthen our role as the ministry responsible for this."
The ministry said this is to reflect various environmental changes in youth policies, such as the recent increase of at-risk adolescents, the lowering of the eligible age to become a lawmaker and the increase in online activities of youth after Covid-19. The ministry has tried to included "youth" in its official name in the past, but the idea didn't follow through because of criticism saying it was a waste of money because changing the name doesn't change its role.
The call to abolish the ministry, which emerged as a hot topic last summer, appears to be a move by the PPP to lure back its young male voters in their 20s and 30s.
Some of the party's young male supporters recently have turned away from the party after Shin Ji-ye, a 31-year-old feminist politician, was named a senior deputy chair of the PPP's now disbanded new era preparatory committee headed by Kim Han-gil, a close aide to Yoon last month. The move was meant to appeal to female voters, but was unpopular with the party's younger male supporters. Shin and Kim stepped down from the campaign last week, amid a sweeping overhaul of the PPP's election campaign committee.
Yoon personally addressed the issue on Facebook on Jan. 3, admitting he "failed to read the minds of those in their 20s and 30s," admitting he had "greatly disappointed the younger generation."
Lee has been strongly opposed to Yoon's recruitment of Shin, saying it will alienate young male voters. Yoon and Lee also have disagreed over the campaign's recruitment of Lee Soo-jung, a professor of criminal psychology at Kyonggi University, also considered a feminist by the young male demographic.
Yoon previously had been in favor of a "reform" of the ministry, but told reporters Saturday, "My current position is to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, but I will think about it a little more."
There is a mix-up even within the PPP, with a party campaign spokesperson indicating that a "renaming" of the ministry was under review Sunday.
But Yoon later clarified that was not the case and that a new ministry comprehensively overseeing children, family and the declining population would be established.
Yoon also pledged to raise the wages of enlisted soldiers to 2 million won ($1,700) a month.
When asked if the ministry's abolishment is a pledge made without any preparation, Woo Hee-ryong, the PPP campaign's policy chief, told TBS radio Monday, "Actually, the pledge is not something made by our policy headquarters."
He added, "There was a lot of controversy internally, but the candidate made the final decision."
Na Kyung-won, a former PPP leader, also told MBC radio Monday that "there is a reason for the ministry to exist."
The issue was also addressed by Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum, who said Sunday in a KBS interview that the ministry "has a clear footprint in history, but people in their 20s are not yet familiar with that."
In turn, PPP campaign spokesman Hwang Kyu-hwan said Monday in a statement that the prime minister "belittled" the young generation, adding that public opinion polls showed that the highest support for abolishing the ministry was from people in their 20s.
The abolishment issue was brought to spotlight last year after PPP chief Lee and some conservative presidential hopefuls including Yoo Seong-min called to scrap the ministry, claiming it has achieved little and only increased gender conflicts.
This push by some conservatives was in turn protested by women's rights groups who criticized politicians using gender issues to garner votes, claiming such attempts shift problems that stem from a misogynistic society.
The Ministry of Gender Equality was launched during the Kim Dae-jung administration in January 2001, separating from the Ministry of Health and Welfare tasks aimed at advancing women's rights and status through policy against gender discrimination.
It oversees responsibilities such as the protection of the victims of domestic violence and sexual violence, prevention of sex trade, expansion of women's participation in society and coordination of gender-related policies. It expanded its duties in 2010 to cover policies for youth and families, including multicultural households.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]