'Korea still male-dominated'
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Ruling Saenuri Party candidate, Park Geun-hye, a frontrunner in the polls, within margins of error, is a new phenomenon in Korean politics, given that the country has long been a male-dominated society.
Is the “Park phenomenon” evidence that politics here is women-friendly?
Erin Aeran Chung, an associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University based in Baltimore, said Park’s performance in the polls is not necessarily linked to the status of women in this country.
“Korea still has a long way to go before it can shed its image and alter its reality as a male-dominated society,” Chung told The Korea Times.
“While the public’s support for Park Geun-hye bodes well for female participation and representation in Korea’s political system (even if it is due to her being the daughter of the late President Park Chung-hee), Korea continues to rank low among countries for female parliamentary representation.”
According to data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union released in October this year, Korea ranked 88th, along with Albania, out of 190 countries in terms of female parliamentary representation. Korea is even ranked below Bangladesh and Indonesia.
Currently, 48 lawmakers out of the 299-member National Assembly are female, accounting for just 16 percent of the national representative body.
Since 2000, women’s representation in the legislature has continued to increase. The figure for 2000 was 8.4 percent, 13 percent in 2004 and 13.7 percent in 2008.
Despite steady growth in the number of female politicians, it still lags far behind that of other advanced countries.
Just as the trend shows, Professor Chung said, there has been progress in women’s rights over the past decades in this country, but it is still insufficient.
“I believe that Korea has made significant progress in the area of women’s rights, specifically in response to the women’s movement. I think it’s particularly significant that the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family plays a central role in policymaking and state-society cooperation,” she said.
The Park camp has used “a prepared female president” as a campaign slogan.
During a speech to the campaign rally for Park held in the northwestern city of Gimpo weeks ago, Rep. Yoo Jeong-bok claimed that Korea is poised to have the first female president.
If Park wins the race and becomes the first female president, he said, it will mean that South Korea will have achieved something that even the United States has not yet done.
Some Saenuri Party members linked the female candidate to the profile of the nation, saying that if Park becomes the first female president, it will have a positive impact on the country’s image.
Professor Chung said Park’s strong showing in the presidential race doesn’t reflect the reality facing women in this nation.
“Korea is also below average among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries in the area of female participation in the labor market,” she said.
If Park wins the election and becomes the first female president in this country, Chung said, it will be an important symbolic victory for women, much like having a black president was for African Americans.
“(Even if this happens, however,) Korea must continue to work proactively to increase women’s participation in politics, the labor market and leadership positions (among other things) to achieve genuine progress in women’s rights and status.”
The gap with her rival Moon Jae-in of the main opposition Democratic United Party is still too close to predict who’ll be next president.