Symbolism of women at the front
Who said “women, thy name is fragility?” Once that may have suggested weakness but nowadays we are finding that fragility may well be a virtue in the era of software and communication.
If it is not a virtue, it is very much a trend. Overshadowed by the purge or the generational change under way in Korean politics is the surge of women. They are in particular Park Geun-hye, 60, head of the interim leadership committee of the governing Saenuri Party, Han Myeong-sook, 68, head of the Democratic United Party and Lee Jung-hee, chairwoman of the minor Unified Progressive Party.
All are fronting major political parties, and Park has her eye firmly set on the next presidency.
One can promptly conjure up a certain advertisement for a cigarette company: “You’ve come a long way.”
Women comprise half or about 24.15 million of the 47 million-strong Korean population. The Ministry of Public Administration and Security announced last month that the number of women serving in grade-5 or higher levels of civil service jumped fivefold in the past decade.
Compared to 2000 when only 420 women were in the higher levels of civil service, the figure leapt to 2,143 in 2010. Of those who passed the bar exam in 2010, 40 percent were women, a record high and another 92 women passed last month, more so than men, statistics say. The portion of women in medicine is also rising.
The surge is also visible on the European landscape. As European heads of state gather to tackle the Greek crisis, two women stand apart — Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany and Christine Lagarde, president of the International Monetary Fund.
But there is palpable anticipation that Park, Han and Lee won’t be Cinderellas but stand on merit of their own feats. Park owes part of her fame to her family; her father is the late former President Park Chung-hee who steely steered the country toward prosperity during his 18-year-rule.
The daughter served as first lady from 1974-1979 after her mother was assassinated. Park is a four-term lawmaker who has made her mark in the political arena by bringing wins in elections crucial to the governing party. She has also carved out an image of a lady with principles.
Han is a former prime minister — the nation’s first female prime minister — tapped by the late former President Roh Moo-hyun from 2006-2007. She also served as environment and gender equality ministers. A graduate of Ewha Womans University with a bachelor’s in French literature and a master’s degree in women’s studies, she was an activist working for women’s rights.
Lee is a freshman lawmaker who now assumes the helm of the minor progressive opposition party. A graduate of law from prestigious Seoul National University, she is also known for recording a top score on the nationwide college entrance exam.
Their campaign pledges run the range from conservative to progressive as their party names suggest.
Because the generational change or the search for fresh political faces is so intense, there is not the usual media brouhaha or the about women at the leadership of three major political parties.
In fact, it’s almost an unusual lack of attention considering how these women broke through the “boys-only” network where deals were made by a few political kingpins that relied largely on school and hometown times. Perhaps we are in a time where the advent of women no longer makes news.
The symbolism of more women in various fields should offer hope to those who are still conjuring up the courage to speak up, to feel that their input will matter in some way.
“Those” people may not only be limited to women but anyone that longs to feel like a true empowered member of a community rather than just one of the potatoes in a sack.