Not dismantling but rearrangingDuring a briefing by the Ministry of Gender Equality & Family, President Yoon Suk-yeol ordered a roadmap of shutting down the ministry. His campaign pledge to do away with the gender ministry had been most controversial among his campaign platforms. Yoon claimed the ministry has outlived its role. The transition committee left out the issue in the state agenda, but the president has brought it back.
The role of the ministry has long been challenged. The transition committee under former president Lee Myung-bak studied the idea of closing the ministry and the unification ministry. But Lee ended up streamlining the two ministries in the face of a strong protest from opposition parties.
The gender ministry has not tried to improve its role. Despite the name of the ministry, it has not stayed neutral on gender issues. It acted as a women’s rights group in relations to the controversy over Rep. Yoon Mee-hyang and the allegations about her exploitation of aged victims of military sexual slavery. When then-governing Democratic Party (DP) leaders, including Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, were implicated with sex crime scandal, the ministry appeared to be advocating for the party more than the victims. The ministry was even suspected of packaging campaign platforms for the presidential candidate of the DP ahead of the election in May. That’s not all. Even DP presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung ended up proposing the idea of streamlining the role of the ministry.
Still, abolition must not be rushed. The ministry is in charge of not just women’s affairs, but also policies on youth, support for underprivileged or unprotected teenagers and multiracial or multi-diverse families, sex crime prevention and protection of victims. Gender issues have become complicated, requiring more expertise. During campaigning, Yoon promised to create a new ministry overseeing the welfare of children and families as well as dealing with demographic challenges. Even if the ministry does away with the gender reference, it should be upgraded with a more comprehensive role.
President Yoon’s remarks about dismantling the ministry could stoke protests strong enough to hamper with rational debating. Even if a fast roadmap is drawn up, the plan can hardly be expedited. A change in government organization is not possible without approval from the DP, a supermajority in the legislature. The liberal opposition will hardly go along with the idea of shutting down the ministry. To prevent the issue from turning into a political battle the ministry should be reformed to carry out its original function so that it can be welcomed by both the opposite sex and the broad population.