No more disputes over the Gender MinistryPresident-elect Yoon Suk-yeol reiterated his campaign pledge to shutter the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, saying he believed the office has “done its historic role.” The Democratic Party (DP) which is poised to become the opposition party after Yoon is sworn in did, not sit tightly. DP Rep. Lee Sang-min protested that the ministry’s role “is till valid” and should be enhanced. Any change to a government organization requires approval of the legislature, where the DP still commands with a supermajority.
The Gender Ministry’s role has long been questioned. The ministry that started as the Women’s Ministry in 2001 under President Kim Dae-jung changed its name in 2005. But its identity and role had been unclear, as much of its work overlaps with other ministries such as the ministries of welfare and employment. After the 2007 election, the transition team of President-elect Lee Myung-bak contemplated closing the ministry along with the Unification Ministry, but stopped at amending their responsibilities.
The government has been criticized for provoking gender conflict instead of supporting equality. The ministry irked the public by coming to the defense of the ruling party when local government heads affiliated with the party had been accused of sexual crimes. It also had been criticized for designing campaign platforms for the ruling party candidate.
The ministry has other useful services. It plans various policies to promote the rights of women and teenagers, protect and support vulnerable teenagers, assist multi-racial families, prevent sex crimes and protect victims. If the ministry ceases to exist, unorthodox families and unschooled teenagers could be put at risk.
During his campaigning in early January, Yoon envisioned creating a new ministry devoted to childcare, families and demographic problems beyond the issues of gender. That implies that the ministry’s role would be redefined instead of being totally scrapped. Won Hee-ryong, the head of planning for Yoon’s transition team, denied that the ministry’s function and role will disappear. Since the DP is inclined not to cling to the name of the ministry, the two mainstream parties could find a middle ground on the affair.
Whether or not President-elect Yoon admits it, there are structural gender discriminations in our society. The opposition People Power Party (PPP)’s campaign slogan on the closure of the Gender Ministry has been criticized for aggravating the conflict. The new government must take responsibility for stoking the conflict.
The election is over. The president-elect is no longer an opposition candidate who has to be aggressive and offensive for his campaign strategy. He must not cause unnecessary disputes with radical comments. He must use more delicate rhetoric so as not to further upset the young female population if he is really serious about uniting society.