Gender equality is keyThe Ministry of Gender Equality and Family is the formal English name of the ministry committed to enhancing women’s rights. Most other countries also use the expression “ministry of gender equality.” In Sweden in 2010, the ministry was incorporated into the ministry of employment in which a vice minister of gender equality serves. Still, Korea refers to the ministry as “the ministry for women and family.”
Korea first institutionalized a women’s rights body through a special presidential committee in February 1998. A separate ministry for women was set up in January 2001 under the first minister Han Myeong-sook. Enhanced women’s rights were regarded as synonymous with gender equality. After President Kim Dae-jung was elected, the ministry gained more significance as his wife Lee Hee-ho was a women’s rights activist.
Two decades since then, young men today complain of reverse discrimination. They argue the law and system came from the patriarchal society of earlier generations. They point to the special quota for females in recruitment by public companies and the conscription for males only. They argue much has become equal between men and women and therefore males should not face extra duties.
The glass ceiling still exists for women in their 30s to middle age. The childcare burden still primarily falls in the laps of women after birth. The social environment that hardens women to manage both family and work must improve. Still, women’s rights should not be equalized with gender equality in the same light as 20 years ago. The young generation does not see any discrimination for men and women as in the past.
The government, therefore, must not entirely be engrossed with women’s rights. It must be able to coordinate gender conflict. The ministry of gender equality under the Moon Jae-in administration has made little effort. It entirely sided with women’s activist groups when former sex slave Lee Yong-soo exposed the wrongdoings of Rep. Yoon Mee-hyang, former head of a group representing survivors of Japanese military sexual slavery. The ministry also showed no sympathy toward the victim of sexual misconduct by former Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon.
Presidential candidates are targeting the ministry to woo votes of young men. Yoon Suk-yeol of the opposition People Power Party (PPP) vows to abolish the ministry upon winning the election. He turned hardline from his earlier plan to revamp the ministry. But his approach to simply do away with the ministry cannot help ease gender conflict.
His rival Lee Jae-myung from the ruling Democratic Party (DP) is also mulling an overhaul of the ministry. The two candidates must seek out a solution to redefine a government office in charge of gender equality. One thing seems certain. From the next administration, the ministry is expected to lose “women’s” reference. Political circles must pay heed to the changes of times. Norway, for instance, mandates a quota for a certain gender does not exceed 60 percent.