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[Newsmaker] Opposition talks about scrapping Ministry of Gender Equality

From left: People Power Party Chariman Lee Jun-seok, former lawmaker Seung-min and Rep. Ha Tae-keung (Yonhap)
From left: People Power Party Chariman Lee Jun-seok, former lawmaker Seung-min and Rep. Ha Tae-keung (Yonhap)
Presidential hopefuls and the leader of the main opposition party have begun talking about scrapping the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, saying all it does is carry out campaigns and make gender conflicts worse.

The ministry, launched in 2001, has often been slammed for underperforming, making divisive statements, and responding passively to sexual harassment by the late former Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon.

“Fifteen to 20 years of trial and error is enough for campaigns based on setting women as minorities,” People Power Party Chairman Lee Jun-seok said on a television news show Tuesday.

“I hope whoever becomes the presidential candidate makes a proper pledge to abolish (the ministry).”

Lee said the ministry has devolved into a mere campaigning agency with weak departments, saying the way they work is not going to resolve gender discrimination “even if there is any.”

Former lawmaker Yoo Seung-min and Rep. Ha Tae-keung, who are running for the party’s nomination as presidential candidates next year, have vowed to get rid of the ministry.

“Half of the population is women, and all government ministries are related to women’s issues. There is no reason to have a separate ministry with a minister, vice minister and directors,” Yoo said on social media Tuesday.

Women’s health and welfare should be handled by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, women’s employment by the Ministry of Employment and Labor, startups by the Ministry of SMEs and Startups, sex crimes by the law enforcement authorities, and the raising and caring of children by the ministries of Welfare and Education, according to Yoo.

“The minister of gender equality is a position given to politicians or presidential election camp members as a booty,” the former legislator said.

“A minister of gender equality of the Moon Jae-in administration showed that she lacked the basics on human rights, and couldn’t even protect women’s rights.”

Former Minister of Gender Equality Lee Jung-ok was chastised for saying the sex crimes that Park and ex-Busan Mayor Oh Keo-don committed provided “an opportunity for the people to learn about gender sensitivity.”

The ministry has also been accused of inciting gender conflict with statements like, “Kimchi-nyeo (woman) is a word of revulsion, but kimchi-nam (men) isn’t,” and “The reason there are only 18 women among 599 winners of the Nobel prize for science is because most of the people who determine the winners are men,” in a 2019 booklet of guidelines on gender equality education.

Last year, the ministry refused a legislator’s request to provide documents related to accounting irregularities involving state subsidies received by an advocacy group for victims of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery.

As an alternative to the ministry, Yoo proposed setting up a presidential committee on gender equality for better coordination of different ministries’ gender equality policies.

Yoo vowed to spend the leftover funds on a “Korean G.I. Bill” that would support young men who have completed their military service.

Rep. Ha said the ministry has “in fact become a ministry of gender conflict incitement.”

“Unlike when it was created under the Kim Dae-jung administration, the ministry has instigated gender conflict under the Moon Jae-in administration instead of going toward gender equality or cohesion,” Ha said in a meeting of lawmakers and young politicians on Tuesday.

Ha also mentioned launching a presidential panel to resolve gender conflict as an alternative to the ministry.

Critics, including women’s groups, said Yoo and Ha were simply trying to woo men in their 20s, who have risen as an active group of voters.

A nongovernmental organization called Korea Women’s Political Solidarity asked what the grounds were for saying other ministries can handle gender policies better, pointing to the Defense Ministry’s alleged attempts to cover up sex crimes by military officials and the typical light punishments given to teachers who sexually harass students.

Rep. Yoon Hee-sook of the People Power Party and Cho Soo-jin, a member of the party’s supreme council, said renaming the ministry and improving the way it works should also be considered.

“It is true the ministry grew out of favor, but that’s because things difficult to handle at other ministries have been transferred there. The most important thing to consider is how do we fill the void,” Yoon said in a radio interview.

Yoon said that from what Yoo and Ha said Tuesday, she didn’t see why scrapping the ministry should be the only alternative.

Cho suggested renaming the ministry and replacing the quota system for women with “a system for gender equality,” and coordinating its work with the Ministry of Welfare. The direct translation of the Gender Equality Ministry’s Korean name is the “Ministry for Women and Family.”

“Inciting gender conflict by saying we no longer need ministries or rules to promote gender equality, and seeking certain votes by doing so is another type of ‘divisive politics,’” Cho wrote on Facebook, adding that seeking to politically benefit by dividing Koreans was the worst thing the Moon administration had done over the past four years.

By Kim So-hyun (