Having suffered from oppression merely due to gender, women are acting in solidarity more than ever before. Women are encouraging each other. And there is one revolutionist who is lighting the fire on this courage through the power of politics and policy. “We are the wave”, she claims. No longer the calm before the storm, she is challenging the society in the name of equality, from Seoul to the whole of Korea Peninsula. SMT reporters met Shin Jiye, Co-Chairperson of the Green Party in Seoul Branch, to hear more about her cry.
What motivated you to enter politics?
I started working as a member of Democratic Labor Party in middle school, but there was a limit to my participation in activities because people do not accept youth as real party members. Then, when the Green Party formed in 2012, I liked its platform and joined it. However, my first real political aspirations came when I ran for proportional representation in the 2016 general election. Around the same time, I was working on a project aimed at better lives of the elder by having them do shared living with the youth in a housing project. My concern at the time was redevelopment and rebuilding, but senior citizens said that would never happen. Nevertheless, like a joke, redevelopment and rebuilding began to rise in 2016, and within a few years, the senior citizens were driven asunder away from the Seoul. They had to leave the Seoul area because they had no dependents and a very low income. Though one’s dream is simple, changes in society and law could prevent the dream from happening. I realized the truth to these statements in 2016. I soon was determined to make a change and that’s why I started to become more active in politics. To be honest, I never thought I would run as a candidate before that.
You were the youngest candidate for Seoul mayor. What made you run in the election? Have you faced any prejudice or misunderstanding during your campaign activities?
I ran for Seoul mayor candidate because I wanted to send a message during the election campaign to the public. A large number of political party politicians are now distrusted by the public nowadays. Korean politics is plagued by distrust. That is what Korean politics made till now on. Especially, concerning the women, there has been a flood of rising uproar since the murder that happened at Gangnam Station, movements like Me Too and the biased investigation for illegal filming are bringing the issues out. However, political circles have yet to make a firm stand. This has only increased the distrust by women of politicians. I want to shatter the distrust and show society that an individual’s life can change through a political stance, when a feminist became Seoul City major. So I spoke my mind as a feminist in the local election. Actually, a Seoul City mayor doesn’t have the authority to implement proposal legally, but I tried to be the loudest voice as a candidate for head of a metropolitan city or province. There were a lot of prejudice statements and sentiment early on. Whenever I was interviewed, most people would comment on my age, my parents and their occupations. I always felt they say me as “somebody’s daughter’ rather than getting to know me for who I am. I wanted to bring this to light. In regards to my campaign posters being damaged, there was some claims that my posters were too cocky. This shows prejudice at its best in Korean society towards Korean young women. I am determined to break away from the image that women should be soft, fun, and pleasant. I am not somebody’s daughter-in-law or daughter. These are images the political world forces to Korean women. I am the confident woman doing what I wanted.
What does feminism mean to you?
It’s simple. It’s the way of shedding light on issues such as sexual assault, sexual discrimination, and the patriarchal system, which are deeply rooted in Korean society. It still has a long road ahead. One of the things women asked for at a demonstration held in Hyehwa was to increase the number of female trial judges to 90 percent. Some see this as extraordinary and nonsense. However, that isn’t heard as a threat because people can’t carry the voice in reality. More feminism movements are needed to ensure equality among women and men. It’s just the beginning. In this regard, media is playing an important role in the movements, but they frequently highlight incorrect aspects. There is a tendency to stretch the truth when reporting on feminism movements and covering only on stimulating things. On the other hand, it’s because the media doesn’t know how to deal with the issues, so it’s important to take an honorable respond to relevant questions and make them clear into right context. That’s the way we should seek.
It seems that you have experienced some difficulties running as a candidate. What types of difficulties have you faced as a female politician in Korea? And please let us know how you have dealt with them.
In the past, everyone’s response to various women’s movements, or feminism movements, was similar. However, as the feminism movements began to pick up momentum, the approval rating by men lowered and the gap between women and men widened. The criminal who vandalized my campaign poster said, "Men's jobs will decrease if a woman is elected mayor." This new fear is likely because women are getting more and more involved in society, and with this increased presence, men are starting to feel nervous around women of authority. False perceptions about feminism are rising because of the fear, so it’s a huge problem I face as a woman. Female politicians have typically put on non-threatening images. In particular, female politicians generally try to appear obedient so that they survive under the nomination system. Will it be easy for a female politicians to fight against the party? I don’t think so, especially within a patriarchal party. This is the reality of being a female politician and the reason I’m working with the Green Party to overcome it. The Green Party doesn’t have a nomination system, so it is possible for a woman to obtain a seat and women are able to become majority members of committees. Individual can’t change the world alone, and that is why we need to be united. Therefore, I will keep trying to unite voices and expand membership of the Green Party.
It’s impressive to see your devotion to disclosure by communicating actively on YouTube, Facebook, and other social media. What type of political image are you trying convey?
I think the paradigm of Korean society is changing. It is similar to a chapter in a book. There is now the idea of peace on the Korean Peninsula, the anti-Communist ideology that once was prevalent in Korea has disappeared, and the conservative Liberty Korea Party, which used to reign as a conservative force, has lost much of its authority. Today, people are more concerned with closer-to-home issues like the issue of gender equality, health issues from fine dust pollution, and the shortage of housing. I believe I have gained support from the people because of these different concerns. My campaign utilized YouTube and Facebook because we wanted to reach a wider audience with our message. Traditional media outlets were not getting out the aims of the Green Party, so we needed a new platform to reach more people. Also, with new media available and people using it, I would create a personal channel on Youtube to efficiency communicate and discuss with citizens issues of concern in society.
You are with young people today as a representative of 'Today Maker'. Please tell us about the group and the types of activities they do.
Today Maker is a gathering of youth seeking a balance of work and play. Members were not partially focused on starting a business or getting a job. In Korean society, it is not possible to achieve great wealth strictly by working a lot. Despite working all the time, a lot of people fall into poverty. Today Maker members are interested in ways of working less and playing more to enjoy life. The idea first came to light when Yasuyuki Fujimura of Japan proposed the idea of a business for 30,000 yen. He worried about humanity and the work without spending. I also pondered the amount one would need to live happily. The pursuit of fun does not mean we ignore study or hard work. We have a time to learn the humanities, welding, and interior carpentry. Today Maker entered into activities with 3D printers two years ago, and have been making them ever since. Also we assist small businesses in local areas outside of the city in order to help stimulate the local economy. Members of Today Maker want work they do to be remembered, so we work hard until the job is done or until society no longer needs the task performed. Humans are creative and that is what we do best, so we don’t need to constantly work blindly to earn money. To live well in society, there is a need for creativity that helps local regional areas and betters humanity. Korea needs national policy that improves job policy, labor policy, welfare policy, redistribution policy, and population control policy.
What inspires you to continue working in politics if you are encountering so many difficulties as a female politician?
irst of all, when I campaigned, I was supported by a lot of people. I was moved and encouraged to continue. On the campaign trail, I appreciated all those who came out to hear our platform and showed their support by offering bouquets of flowers. These acts really helped, and I felt stronger. I appreciate all the positive feedback and comments posted online even I received the malicious comments. Besides these, anger is another one of my driving forces. Looking at the current situation, I am often bought to a sigh, so I get angry and this sparks my devotion to my cause. Then, anger and the support of citizens are the two biggest driving forces for me.
Please tell us about your immediate goals as well as future plans.
My ultimate goal is to increase the size of and support for Green Party by 2020. I am also interested in getting more young people interested in politics and the aims of the Green Party. I will also create political training projects for women because I would like to see an increase in interest in becoming party colleagues. I am happy that the Green Party is open to all interested, which is making it easier to accomplish our goals. I don’t have one single objective. There are so many things I hope to do and change, but I need to find better more efficient ways of doing things.
Lastly, please leave a few words to Sookmyungians thinking about becoming politicians.
Sookmyung is a women’s university and the status of women in Korea is increasing each year. Korean women are no longer standing for discrimination and fighting back against inequality. As a woman, we should get angry, not depressed, at the state of the nation. There is no one single reason for the way Korean society has developed, but as a woman, stand strong for feminism movements. We need to stick together and seek resolutions to problems by keeping the movements strong. Women have begun to unite through great power movements such as the “anti-corset movement” to establish new found freedom. I hope Sookmyungians keep these movements close to your heart and live life the way you want.
- Former Representative of Korean Youth Union (2004-2006)
- Established and Worked at Social Enterprise ‘Booktellers’ (2009-2012)
- Former Policy Spokesperson of The Green Party (2015-2016)
- Former Manager of the Department of Youngers’ Wage at Seoul Young Council (2016)
- Representative of Today Maker Co. (2013-)
- Co-Chairperson of The Green Party, Seoul Branch
Shin Choi Woohyun / Society Section Editor /
Song Yoon Heejeong / Culture Section Editor /