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Gender war revisited in presidential race

Yoon Suk-yeol and Lee Jae-myung clash on gender conflict approach

Presidential nominee Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party travels to the party`s office in Yeouido, western Seoul, on Friday as part of his campaign efforts. (Joint Press Corps)
Presidential nominee Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party travels to the party`s office in Yeouido, western Seoul, on Friday as part of his campaign efforts. (Joint Press Corps)
Presidential nominee Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party has revisited the option of abolishing the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, a move deemed controversial by many amid aggravating gender conflict in South Korea.

Yoon is explicitly appealing to male voters in their 20s as recommended by People Power Party Chairman Lee Jun-seok after the two came to a truce days earlier following a period of damaging internal strife.

On Friday, the presidential nominee posted a short blurb on Facebook calling for the abolishment of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. The post said "abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family" without any further explanation.

The latest announcement is believed to be a means for Yoon's campaign team to directly appeal to male voters in their 20s, possibly as recommended by Lee, who received dominant support from this demographic when winning his party‘s chairman seat last year.

Lee has also been vocal against recruiting female rights-friendly figures to Yoon's election campaign committee when he served as a co-standing chair. Upon making peace with Yoon, Lee emphasized winning back the support of young voters. Ratings for Yoon suffered heavily from days of publicized internal strife.

Whether the ministry should stay in existence has been a hot-button debate topic among South Koreans for years. Gender-related conflict has been aggravated here between those for and against feminism. Likewise, gender conflict and how to address it have been key issues surrounding the election and its candidates.

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea and its friendly forces have been in favor of keeping the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family in place, arguing that it has been crucial in protecting women’s rights. Proponents of keeping the ministry say its works must be continued to ensure the government supports the underprivileged population.

The People Power Party has been generally unified in opposing the continued existence of the Gender Equality Ministry.

Many of its lawmakers have argued for abolishing it, saying its tasks overlap with other government agencies. They also claimed that the leftover budget from abolishing it could be used to promote other initiatives in need of additional financial support.

Yoon in October vowed to bring reforms to the ministry and have it focus on bringing welfare support for men as well as women. His stance has become more extreme than in the past, as he is focused on recovering lost voter support.

The People Power Party's internal troubles have turned voters across age groups away from Yoon, working in favor of Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor opposition People’s Party.

A Gallup Korea survey of 1,002 adults conducted from Tuesday to Thursday showed Lee Jae-myung at the front with 36 percent while Yoon was behind by 10 percentage points with 26 percent. Ahn placed third with 15 percent.

Even worse, Yoon lost a lot of support from young voters, who are considered "swing voters" for the upcoming election.

Recent poll results showed Yoon even trailing behind minor party candidates in some young voter groups, a stark contrast to just weeks ago when Yoon was shown in surveys as the most favored candidate among young voters.

While it is unclear for the time being whether Yoon’s announcement could be effective in winning the support of male voters in their 20s, criticism immediately mounted over Yoon’s stance, raising gender conflict again as a key issue in the political circle.

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum essentially voiced against Yoon’s idea of abolishing the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, saying the ministry has made many accomplishments of which male voters in their 20s must not know well.

"The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family has done well and made many accomplishments," Kim said in a KBS interview Sunday.

"For a little more than 20 years since its founding, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family has made noticeable progress towards gender equality through accomplishments like abolishing (the family registry system that allowed only men to be the head of a household)."

While Yoon was revisiting the issue of gender conflict, his rival Lee Jae-myung of the ruling party sat in an interview with dotface, a politically liberal YouTube channel that focuses on making content on issues like sexual minorities, disability, digital sex crimes, poverty and platform workers.

In the interview, Lee Jae-myung emphasized the need to listen to diverse opinions from all areas in approaching politics. He added that listening to opinions does not necessarily mean siding with them.

"We have to listen as much as possible because everyone is a citizen," Lee Jae-myung said during the interview. "It is important to share opinions on various websites like FM Korea and dcinside and listen to the conversations they have there. Making decisions comes after that."

For more information regarding the survey results, visit the National Election Survey Deliberation Commission homepage.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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