President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol on Sunday reaffirmed his election pledge to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.
He said that the ministry has completed its historical missions and that his government would form a new organization to deal with inequality, human rights abuses and the like more effectively than the ministry.
The pledge faces not only strong opposition from women’s communities and the ruling majority Democratic Party of Korea, but also calls for prudence from some lawmakers of the People Power Party itself.
Critics argue that Yoon and the People Power Party made that pledge with an intention to get votes from young men who welcome the abolition of the ministry.
The pledge aroused antipathy among women. According to election exit polls conducted by three major TV networks, 58.7 percent of men in their 20s supported Yoon, while 58 percent of women in their 20s supported Lee.
Considering that young people tend to prefer progressives to conservatives in comparison with older generations, the strategy worked to some extent, but Yoon and his party lost an opportunity to win over women.
Established in 2001, the ministry has made no small accomplishments. It played a leading role in abolishing the outdated patriarchal family system, enacting the sexual violence and sex trafficking prohibition law and beefing up support programs for women whose careers were discontinued.
But when it was revealed that Yoon Mi-hyang -- a longtime activist for the rights of the victims of wartime sexual slavery committed by Japan -- allegedly embezzled donations given to the women, the ministry refrained from criticism. It was probably because Yoon Mi-hyang was one of the figures defended by the Moon administration.
Asked by a lawmaker in the National Assembly if sexual harassment by former Seoul and Busan mayors are sex offenses against women by powerful men, the gender equality minister evaded answering, citing an ongoing investigation. The disgraced mayors belonged to the Democratic Party.
The ministry disregarded the rights of victimized women and tried to curry favor with the Moon regime. It would have nothing to say even if it were abolished.
Politically biased wrongs of the ministry must be corrected, but it is questionable if they should be reasons to weaken or eliminate its essential functions. If the ministry is abolished or its functions are scattered into other ministries, policies and programs to ensure gender equality will likely be scaled down.
At the heart of the ministry’s problems is a political motive to use women or their movements. Politicians must not foster gender conflicts. Gender conflicts are now a task for President-elect Yoon to resolve.
Under his pledge, the ministry may be renamed or its functions transferred to other ministries. And yet detailed diagnosis of functions should come first. To ensure gender equality, it would be desirable and efficient to integrate and strengthen functions related to women, children and family.
Yoon said that if a government tries to serve people properly, it should recruit the most experienced and most competent people, and that national integration which prioritizes quotas will not help national development. He clarified the position of his government to make meritocracy a rule in personnel affairs and to exclude gender quotas.
Meritocracy is not always the best approach depending on the characteristics of an organization. It is questionable if fairness and justice can be fulfilled only under a meritocratic system. There is a need to deliberate a bit more about whether women quotas are needed in certain male-dominated fields.
Reorganization should substantially help resolve gender conflicts. Above all, it should be supported by both women and men. A politically motivated abolition to secure support from men who oppose the ministry should be avoided.
By Korea Herald (firstname.lastname@example.org