The Korea Herald


[News Focus] Korea attains higher percentage of female ministers than US, Japan

But Korea still falls short of OECD average in 2019

By Kim Yon-se

Published : Jan. 26, 2021 - 14:45

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Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae (right) and outgoing Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae (left) take part in a Cabinet meeting at Government Complex Seoul on Jan. 5. (Yonhap) Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae (right) and outgoing Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae (left) take part in a Cabinet meeting at Government Complex Seoul on Jan. 5. (Yonhap)

SEJONG -- President Moon Jae-in was active in appointing women to his Cabinet during the early part of his term, though the percentage relative to the total has dropped since then.

On the back of the current administration’s policy since 2017 favoring greater gender balance among ministers, South Korea overtook the US and some other developed countries in terms of the percentage of women occupying ministerial posts, according to the latest comparison from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

As of 2019, women made up 22.2 percent of Korea’s government ministers. This compared favorably with 21.7 percent in the US, 21.7 percent in the UK, 21.4 percent in Australia and 5.3 percent in Japan.

Nevertheless, Korea lagged far behind the OECD average of 31.2 percent, coming in at No. 29 among the 37 members of the Paris-based organization.

Among emerging economies, Colombia ranked third with 52.9 percent, Mexico ninth with 42.1 percent, Slovakia 14th with 35.7 percent, Estonia 15th with 35.7 percent, Chile 17th with 34.8 percent, Latvia 19th with 30.8 percent and the Czech Republic 22nd with 28.6 percent.
(Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald) (Graphic by Kim Sun-young/The Korea Herald)

Of all the nations in the analysis, Spain topped the list with 64.7 percent, followed by Sweden with 54.5 percent, Colombia with 52.9 percent, France with 50 percent, Canada with 50 percent, Switzerland with 42.9 percent, Denmark with 42.9 percent and Norway with 42.1 percent.

“Korea temporarily ranked above the US in the female minister percentage. But, unlike the Trump administration, the Biden administration has nominated a higher portion of women as Cabinet members (who are to undergo confirmation hearings in Congress),” said a political commentator in Seoul.

In April 2017, when Moon was a presidential candidate, he said he would strive for a 50-50 gender ratio, with nine women and nine men in charge of the country’s 18 ministries by the end of his tenure.

His Cabinet was launched in May that year with women occupying 27.7 percent of the ministerial posts, and with hopes of expanding that figure gradually until it reached 50 percent.

Over the past 3 1/2 years President Moon has appointed 12 female ministers, including outgoing Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and former Land Minister Kim Hyun-mee.

The others included Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae, outgoing Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae, former SMEs Minister Park Young-sun, former Employment Minister Kim Young-joo, Gender Equality Minister Chung Young-ai and Environment Minister Han Jeoung-ae.

But the figure is set to slide to 16.6 percent -- only three ministers -- due to the Cabinet reshuffle in recent weeks.

Some political observers say the Moon administration may have had difficulty finding suitable female candidates within the existing pool of civil servants, where men tend to advance disproportionately to the highest ranks.

One online commenter said “filling some minister posts with female politicians from the president’s party of origin could not be meaningful progress. The nation should foster female senior civil servants with expertise and careers of about 30 years.”

A second commenter said it was no longer a matter of the “glass ceiling” as Korea is one of the few countries to have elected a female president. “Rather than the numeral obsession for a higher proportion of women, personnel policy should be focused on qualifications, whether they are men or women.”

By Kim Yon-se (