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Posted : 2012-12-11 17:23
Updated : 2012-12-11 17:23

'Korea still male-dominated'

By Kang Hyun-kyung

Erin Aeran Chung, professor of Johns Hopkins University
One of the salient characteristics of the Dec. 19 presidential election is that a female presidential candidate has led the race so far with consistently strong showings in surveys.

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.


관련 한글 기사

한국정치, 여성친화적인가?

불과 10일도 안남은 대선에서 새누리당 박근혜 후보가 민주당 문재인 후보와 경합을 벌이는 가운데 조사기관에 따라 4-5%가량 앞서면서 우위를 점하고 있는 것으로 나타났다.

이 같은 현상은 4년전 미국에서 힐러리 당시 후보가 오바마 현 대통령에 패배해 민주당 후보가 되지 못한 점과 대조적이다.

한국대선에서 여성후보가 강세를 보이는 현상과 관련하여 미국 존스 홉킨스 대학의 애린 정 교수는 박근혜 후보가 선전하는 것이 한국사회에서 여성의 권리와 관련하여 상징적인 의미는 지닐 수 있으나 이것이 한국정치가 여성친화적이라는 것과는 별개라고 선을 그었다.

국제의원연맹에 따르면 한국은 여성 국회의원 비율로 보면 전체 190개 국가 중 88위에 해당한다. 한국은 방글라데시. 인도네시아에도 뒤지는 것으로 나타났다.

정교수는 한국이 여권분야에서 눈부신 성장을 보인 것은 사실이지만 여성정치인 비율이나 고위직 진출면에서 보면 아직 해야 할 일이 많다고 진단했다.




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