Yoon Suk-yeol (Yonhap)
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s strategy of practically alienating the female population in pursuit of male voters nearly cost him the election, and local women’s groups are urging him to be aware of this before carrying out his “anti-feminist” pledges.
On the coattails of Wednesday’s presidential election, the Korea Women’s Associations United released a statement criticizing Yoon’s campaign, in which he escaped with Korea’s smallest-ever margin of a 0.7 percentage-point win over Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea. They urged Yoon to back down from his controversial pledges, including one to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.
“The People Power Party and the president-elect actively used a fabricated and backward (strategy) of using frames like ‘instigating via hatred’ and ‘gender conflict’ during their campaign, leading to disappointment from many citizens,” the KWAU said Thursday, saying Yoon should be mindful of why young women rallied against him. “They should ponder the meaning of their extremely slim, less-than-1-percent victory despite nationwide aspiration for an administrational shift.”
Polls showed a general lack of gender disparity among most age groups, except for 30-something men leaning slightly more toward Yoon and women in the same age group doing the opposite.
But among those in their 20s, Yoon dominated the male demographic with an advantage of 58.7 percent to 36.3 percent, while 58 percent of women supported Lee compared to 33.8 percent for Yoon.
This has widely been interpreted as due to opposition against Yoon’s anti-feminist overtures and remarks, capped off by the conservative candidate retracting his claims of being a feminist and reiterating his pledge to abolish the Gender Ministry on Tuesday, the day before the election as well as International Women’s Day.
Yoon’s pledges also included strengthening punishment for false accusations related to sexual violence, which local women’s groups and rivals -- including Sim Sang-jung of the Justice Party who was one of two female presidential candidates -- criticized as a gender-biased plea to appeal to young male voters.
“We urge the new administration to establish its policies based on democracy and gender equality, and actively seek to abolish the structural discrimination,” the KWAU went on to say.
In his first press conference as president-elect, Yoon denied accusations of gender bias and said he is trying to address the “unfairness” in society. “The law and system (for gender equality) has already been established to some extent, so rather than to focus on issues like collective equality, it is more important for the state to place more focus on individual cases of unfairness,” he said.
Yoon’s comment was an extension of his previous stance that had greatly appealed to young male voters who say they are left out and face discrimination from the incumbent Moon Jae-in administration’s policies labeled as feminism, particularly those from the Gender Ministry.
The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family was created in 2001 under then-President Kim Dae-jung as the Ministry of Gender Equality, taking on female-specific functions and child care functions from the Labor and Welfare ministries. After several rounds of restructuring, policies related to teens, families and multicultural families were allocated to the ministry, thus the name change.
The previous Lee Myung-bak administration (2008-13) had mulled abolishing the ministry and transferring its functions to other governmental bodies, but the plans were met with fierce opposition from women’s groups and the then-opposition Democratic Party.
By Yoon Min-sik (firstname.lastname@example.org