The Korea Herald


[K-Wellness] Inclusive welfare and the world Rep. Kang Sun-woo dreams of

‘One of most important things for politician is to ask good questions’

By Korea Herald

Published : Feb. 15, 2023 - 10:37

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Rep. Kang Sun-woo Rep. Kang Sun-woo

To know about Rep. Kang Sun-woo and what she has done so far as a member of the National Assembly, one need first to take a good look at her career before running for a seat at the Assembly.

Kang previously worked as an anchor hosting “The Diplomat” on diplomacy and international relations on Arirang TV for 17 months. With her appearances on a number of TV shows, she was widely seen as a celebrity in entertainment, but not much was known about her stellar academic career.

Until 2016, she was an assistant professor at South Dakota State University. She studied English education for her bachelor’s degree and consumer and human development for her master’s degree at Ewha Woman’s University. In 2012, she earned a Ph.D. in human development and family studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

As the mother of a child with developmental disabilities, Kang juggled motherhood with her studies for a decade in the United States. Attributing her work-parenting balance to the welfare system there, she became keen to learn more about the country’s welfare policies and politics.

After pondering how she wanted to contribute in the world, she finally decided to pursue her passion in politics. On the flight back to Korea, she filled out the application to join the Democratic Party of Korea. It was not someone else’s recommendation or suggestion that led her to the decision; it was her own choice.

In the 2016 elections for the National Assembly, Kang ran for a proportional representation seat, nominated as the 29th candidate, but she failed to score a seat. Four years later, however, she won the primary race for the Democratic Party’s nomination to represent her district by a large margin, and she was subsequently elected to that seat. As a member of the National Assembly’s Health and Welfare Committee, she strives to make her vision a reality.

The Korea Herald: Your top priority as a lawmaker has been child-related policies. How is that going?

Rep. Kang Sun-woo: I think one of the most important things for a politician is to ask good questions. To me, what I can do best is to ask those questions at the Health and Welfare Committee. I still have many questions to ask at the committee sessions in the second half of the year, so I chose to stay.

Not long after the 21st Assembly began its term, the death of Jeong-in (a 16-month-old girl who died of abuse in 2020) came to light.

It is mournful that these children are not being given what they deserve and die too young; so, I tried to come up with fundamental solutions to prevent child abuse fatalities from ever happening again.

So far I have proposed more than 20 legislative bills on child abuse prevention -- requiring abusive parents to stay away from their minor children, placing more shelters for abused children, putting in place health facilities dedicated to address child maltreatment and assigning public officials to child abuse prevention duties.

KH: What do you think is the most urgent thing to do to stop child abuse?

Kang: Like you need gas to make a car work, it is fundamental to secure funds for these measures to work.

It was the responsibility of the Ministry of Health and Welfare to plan the budget for child abuse measures, but the thing was that those funds actually came from the Lottery Fund under the Ministry of Economy and Finance -- as well as from the Crime Victim Protection Fund under the Ministry of Justice.

A drop in lottery ticket sales means a smaller budget. What if the Crime Victim Protection Fund decided somehow to stop its funding of child abuse prevention? It is absolutely unreasonable, underfunded and untimely.

To make things right, I proposed a bill to bring the budget under the control of one entity. Whether it was thanks to the pressure from my proposal or not, the Ministry of Economy and Finance agreed to transfer control of the budget to the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

KH: What actions do you think should be taken to effectively prevent child abuse?

Kang: The first thing to do is to separate children from the abuser. In some cases, child victims happen to encounter their abusive parents at shelters, but they must stay away from their children.

Shelters for people with disabilities tend not to accept children with disabilities as they only accept adults, while other shelters also may not allow them because they are not intended for people with disabilities – a vicious circle for abused children with disabilities.

I realized it is urgent to establish more shelters dedicated to keep these children safe. So I put forward a new bill to place shelters for abused children with disabilities, and the bill passed the plenary session.

Other proposals I have put forth include one to improve protections for maltreated children who stay at facilities for disabled persons. I have also proposed a bill to enhance educational and promotional activities to raise awareness for disabled child maltreatment prevention.

KH: What are the main issues in your constituency, Gangseo-gu, in western Seoul?

Kang: Two of the top priorities that the people of Gangseo-gu have long wanted to see addressed are the new train line connecting Daejang and Hongdae and lifting height restriction rules (for building) that were imposed to help jetliners land safely at Gimpo Airport.

To make progress in the Daejang-Hongdae Line construction, I and other lawmakers whose constituencies are located along the train line, such as Mapo-gu and Bucheon (in Gyeonggi Province), decided to join forces, forming the West Metropolitan Train Line Group. In 2022, the lawmaker group worked with the minister of land, infrastructure and transport to increase the budget cap on the train line construction to 447.7 billion won ($353 million).

Nearly 97.3 percent of the entire Gangseo land area is under strict structure height limits. This has restricted the people of Gangseo-gu from exercising their property rights, while old buildings are too short to accommodate more businesses. The bill to change the height limit is now under the Assembly’s consideration.

KH: How do you engage and communicate with the community?

Kang: Gangseo-gu is home to the second-largest population in Seoul. It is conveniently located for those who commute downtown, such as to Yeouido, which makes the district a livable residential area for young, working-age populations. It has a lot of hospitals and pharmacies and it also has many good places to educate children.

The most important job for me is to get myself out to meet community members in person, every other Saturday. In addition to that, I try to engage with my community as much as possible through reporting my activities in the Assembly, attending parent meetings and festive events, or at subway stations and traditional markets.

I have also set up a makeshift counselling session to take people’s requests by myself on the street.

KH: What measures should be taken to address the low birthrate and aging population?

Kang: To answer that question, we need to carefully analyze our approach.

Lowering housing and education costs wouldn’t encourage young people to have babies. We need to take a more holistic approach to figure out what really makes them reluctant to have kids.

If it turns out that it is nearly impossible to reverse the shrinking population, we might have little choice but to readjust our goals and change existing measures, at least in order to be able to maintain the status quo.

KH: Can you tell our readers your plans for the rest of the National Assembly term?

Kang: I became a politician to make the world a better place, where people are free from discrimination for what they didn’t choose to be.

I will continue to pursue my passion to help marginalized neighbors. I will also continue to help those socially marginalized lead a life just as their wealthier neighbors do.

I think what politics should do is to make society more predictable and to make people feel more certain about what will come in the future. This requires politicians to be better at what they do and to be more empathetic about the world.

This year, with more engagement with the community and more questions asked of myself, I will look for the right answers.

By Yang Jung-won (