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New S.Korea President Vows to Abolish Ministry of Gender Equality

Yoon had vowed to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality, a statement that helped energize young male voters driving a reaction against feminism in South Korea.

Only 34% of women in their twenties voted for Yoon, despite pre-election surveys predicting substantially stronger support among this group. The Democratic Party has picked a 26-year-old feminist who has been a harsh opponent of Yoon’s policies as its new temporary head, hoping to use the gender issue as a rallying point following the election setback.

The choice of South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol to utilize the country’s gender conflicts as a campaign platform for his recent election victory may have backfired.

Yoon won an unprecedented tight March 9 election. However, the vow must be approved by parliament, which is presently controlled by the Democrats, who are opposed to the notion. Meanwhile, inside his own People Power Party (PPP), there is division over whether he should further alienate women before of crucial municipal elections in June.

Opposition pushes for Ministry of Gender Equality expansion

Cho Eun-hee, a recently elected female PPP legislator, is one of many pushing for the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family’s role to be expanded, maybe through the formation of a new agency. “Despite its numerous positive functions, the ministry has been criticized for fuelling gender conflicts … but it’s not all or nothing, we need to gather wisdom to find a forward-looking alternative,” Cho explained.

New S.Korea President Vows to Abolish Ministry of Gender Equality
The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family argues for its existence against opponents.

The ministry has become a flashpoint for an increasingly heated gender discussion in the country of 52 million people, where numerous inequities persist: women’s labor market participation is lower than the OECD average, and the gender pay gap is the worst in the same group. Some young men, though, believe that efforts to restore the balance have gone too far in a post-pandemic competitive employment market. Mandatory military duty for young males – but not women – has been criticized, while “reverse discrimination” measures like as financial assistance for women who live alone have been labelled.

Yoon was endorsed by almost 60% of male voters in their 20s, who also promised to enhance military conscript salaries and abolish gender quotas for public sector positions after he takes government in May. On the other hand, just 34% of women in their twenties voted for Yoon, despite pre-election surveys predicting substantially stronger support among this group.

The Democratic Party has picked a 26-year-old feminist who has been a harsh opponent of Yoon’s policies as its new temporary head, hoping to use the gender issue as a rallying point following the election setback. 

Ministry of Gender Equality and Family

The ministry began in 1988 with the establishment of an office under the prime minister to promote women’s position in a male-dominated Confucian culture, before expanding in 2010 to include broader gender and family issues. While some blame its “feminist” language for inflaming anti-male sentiment, it has also been under fire in recent years from across the political spectrum for protecting high-profile governing party leaders accused of sexual misconduct. It was also chastised for not keeping impartial throughout the election campaign and instead assisting the outgoing Democrat Party in formulating policy.

New S.Korea President Vows to Abolish Ministry of Gender Equality
Ministry of Gender Equality and Family

According to a January Realmeter poll, roughly 52% of Koreans favour closing or renovating the ministry. “The ministry had failed to address calls for reform, which eroded public trust and raised concerns about intensifying gender divide,” said Koo Jeong-woo, a sociology professor at Sungkyunkwan University.

“Some people fear that they might lose their benefits and indispensable help, and that’s where the president-elect should play his role, to alleviate their concerns.” The ministry also works to prevent sex crimes and domestic abuse and defend victims, as well as support children, single parents, and other vulnerable families – programs proponents argue would be harmed if parcelled out to other ministries.

Many women believe that eliminating the ministry would be backward at a time when greater effort on gender equality is required. “The ministry should be gone one day, but we are not there yet,” said Kim Ji-yun, a 22-year-old who voted against Yoon.

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