On March 9, South Korea's 20th presidential election was held. As a result, candidate Yoon Seokyeol of the People Power Party was elected to lead the next government. In this election, pledges for women have become controversial. From pledges related to sex crimes to pledges to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, candidates' moves toward women dominated women's votes. On top of that, citizens' evaluations of the pledges for women made by Yoon are mixed, drawing keen attention to them and the new government.
Yesterday and today in Korea
As society advances, citizens' perception of gender equality is increasing. However, it seems that the improvement of citizens' level of consciousness does not alleviate the degree of gender conflict. On April 20, Chung Jaesun, president of Korea Research, announced the results of a survey on gender conflict awareness and gender equality policies in Korea at a seminar held at the Korea Women's Policy Institute under the theme of "The Prospects and Tasks of the New Government's Gender Equality Policy." According to a Korea Research survey of 1,000 people aged 18 or older in February this year, 71% of the respondents agreed that "the gender conflict in our society is serious." The figure is up 8% from last year, highlighting the fact that the degree of gender conflict in society felt by citizens has intensified compared to last year. According to an additional Korea Research survey of 1,000 people conducted from April 8 to 11, 76% of the respondents agreed that promoting policies to resolve gender inequality should be a major government task. It seems that the majority of citizens want the government to discuss gender equality policies in detail. Yoon Sangchul, a professor in the Department of Sociology at Hanshin University, said, "The new government needs to discuss with academia gender-related policies and why and how much such a system is needed."1) He said it should take an active stance to spread gender equality.
There has long been a demand for policies for gender equality. Therefore, each administration established and revised policies according to the trend of the times, starting with the establishment of specific women's policies by the Kim Dae Jung administration in the late 1990s. It established the 'Ministry of Gender Equality,' and set it to function as a control tower for women-related work. In addition, the proportional representation gender quota system was implemented to improve women's representation by recognizing the barrier of female politicians who have relative difficulty entering politics. Currently, the law stipulates that the allocation ratio be expanded by more than 50%. Afterward, the Roh Moo Hyun administration declared that it would pursue a gender equality society in earnest. The abolition of the patriarchal family system was a remarkable achievement. This seems to have had a great influence not only on breaking down patriarchal bad habits but also on dismantling the ideology of normal families. Meanwhile, the Moon Jae In administration ended with criticism that while it had made positive progress against gender violence and public representation, it had failed to actively respond to the gender wage gap. In the end, it seems necessary to establish and implement careful policies because women's policies affect the level of woman's rights and gender equality.
A new government, a new policy
President Yoon Seokyeol has come up with three major gender policies for the new administration. These three policies are in keeping with the three gender pledges made in the presidential election. First of all, Yoon declared a war on sex crimes, signaling a strong response to them. He said the new government will establish a response system for five major violent crimes, including power-related crimes, digital sex crimes, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking crimes. It was mentioned that the clause which allows crimes to go unpunished if the victim objects to punishment would be abolished. Since the enactment of the "Stalking Punishment Act" in October last year, the provision has become a problem in that the victim can invalidate the punishment against the perpetrator as a result of threats. Yoon has also come up with several measures to deal with the recent increase in digital sex crimes. According to the Supreme Prosecutors' Office's "2021 Prosecution Yearbook," the number of digital sex crimes detected in 2021 was 16,866, an increase of about 17% from 14,380 in 2020.2) This is a figure caused by the increase in the number of digital sex crimes and the increase in the arrest of digital sex crimes. After the Nth Room incident, a new sentencing standard for them was established, but there was a limitation that the system was insufficient in terms of victim protection. In response to that point, the new government will set up victim support centers nationwide and directly hire digital sex crime specialists to support the deletion of distributed videos. It also called for ensuring the safety of women by establishing various sex crime-related response systems.
In addition, Yoon presented policies for female workers. He said he would strengthen the system to guarantee the rights of mother and father. He promised to increase the period of parental leave from one year to 1.5 years for each man and woman. It was also noticeable that separate support was guaranteed to specialized workers and self-employed people who have difficulty balancing work and family. This means that the state will be more concerned with the rights of working women to conceive, give birth to, and raise children. The implementation of the 'Gender Work Disclosure System' is also planned to form a fair working environment. Compared to other OECD countries, Korea has a larger gender gap in employment, wages, and managerial ratios. In the '2021 Glass Ceiling Index' released in the March edition of The Economist, Korea's gender wage gap reached 31.5%, ranking overwhelmingly the lowest (29th).3) The figure is more than twice as high as the OECD average of 13.5%. Therefore, the gender labor disclosure system will be introduced to improve the gender discrimination index in Korea. Under this system, each company is required to disclose the gender of all personnel from the hiring stage to the working stage to the retirement stage. It provides more in-depth information than the employment form disclosure system. The gender labor disclosure system aims to gradually expand and apply this system to companies by allowing them with 500 or more employees to voluntarily introduce it. Through these systems, the new government is expected to improve the working environment for women and further address gender discrimination in the labor sector.
Meanwhile, attention is being paid to whether the new administration will go ahead with the abolition of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. Soon after his election, Yoon showed a firm commitment to implementing his pledge to abolish it as a major gender policy. The 20th presidential election Policy Pledgebook of the People Power Party states that the ministry failed to properly perform the function of gender equality in important cases. Therefore, the new government promised to abolish it and create a separate ministry to be able to cope with various social problems. It was announced that women-related work will be transferred to other ministries or a gender equality committee will be established separately to perform its work there. However, the future of the MOGEF seems to have become unclear after the announcement of the 110th national task of the transition committee on May 3. This is because the abolition of the ministry, which Yoon has repeatedly mentioned since the presidential election, has been excluded from the final national agenda. There is no specific announcement on the future of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and the transition committee. In the end, as the new government's existing stance on the abolition of it has dampened, it is expected that there will be variability in its implementation.
Voices surrounding it
There are voices of concern over the establishment of a new clause on false accusations of sex crimes, which the Yoon Seokyeol administration has put forward along with strengthening punishment for sex crimes. Yoon said he would adjust the sentence to more than three years of imprisonment in the case of false accusations of violent crimes, and establish a new false accusation clause in the "Special Act on the Punishment of Sexual Violence Crimes." However, the policy has been criticized for being able to discourage victim reports of sex crimes. According to a case that was filed in November last year with Gapjil119, A, an office worker, reported to the CEO after being sexually harassed by the head of the human resources department but was dismissed. A filed a complaint with the police for forced harassment by the perpetrator, but the prosecution dismissed it as having insufficient evidence. Afterward, the perpetrator sued A for false accusations and claimed damages.4) She was unfairly fired from her job for making the complaint and was sued by the perpetrator. This is a case in which the perpetrator abused the false accusation clause in a sexual violence case. The establishment of a clause for false accusations of sex crimes is likely to have the effect of discouraging victims from reporting sex crimes. Therefore, it seems necessary to carefully review the false accusation policy.
Also, experts questioned the effectiveness of the gender work disclosure system. As mentioned, President Yoon Seokyeol said he would introduce a 'gender labor disclosure system' for a fair working environment. However, this system has been criticized as being somewhat insufficient to resolve structural inequality in the labor market. Yoon did not mention the gender wage gap while referring to this system. Kim Nanjoo, an associate researcher at the Korea Women's Policy Institute, said, "Wages are important in looking at gender equality measures. The vacuum of female workers taking career breaks leads to the low proportion of women in high-ranking positions, which is a factor that widens the gender wage gap."5) In addition, she recognized that disclosure of information on wages is essential to revive the main purpose of this system. There has also been discussion that there may be obstacles in inducing companies to voluntarily implement the system. The Moon Jaein government also tried to disclose the sexual offenses of public institution personnel to improve gender discrimination, but it was not realized due to corporate opposition. It is difficult to expect their voluntary participation since companies do not wish to publicly disclose personnel data. Thus, to overcome these limitations, it will be better to recognize social structural problems and come up with specific measures.
The abolition of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family has been excluded from the national agenda, but there are concerns about the substantial reduction in the work of the ministry. According to the 110th national task of the Yoon Seokyeol government, it can be seen that there is no single task for the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. Only "family" projects and "crime victim protection" projects are jointly organized with other ministries. Projects designated by the previous administration as state tasks for the MOGEF, such as realizing gender equality and resolving social discrimination, were not found in the new state affairs. Consequently, the major projects of the ministry became unclear or were transferred to other ministries. In response, Kwon Soohyun, CEO of Korea Women's Political Solidarity, said, "Given that the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family is in charge of only two tasks: family and crime victim work, the transition committee seems to have expressed its position to reduce or abolish it."6) She recognized that the new government had implicitly announced its weakening of the ministry. The decision on the existence of the new government's Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and the direction of establishing specific women's policies are expected to be important.
For everyone to live better
Women's policy is significant in that it enhances women's rights and helps them finally reach a gender-equal society. Effective women's policies have improved women's lives, and women's policies are essential for women who have been endangered in our current society. Therefore, the role of the new government seems to be important at this point. It will be necessary to check the effectiveness and consequent impact of women's policies. In addition, it will be important to make efforts to realize the value of equality and integration through such policies.
1) Kang Sooryeon, "[NFF2022] Accumulated Gender Conflicts After the Nth Room Incident… Pledges to Abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family Also Serve as a Spark", News 1, April 11, 2022
2) Park Yoonye, "Digital Sex Crimes Amid COVID-19 Surge… 16,866 People Caught Last Year", Maeil Business Newspaper, December 7, 2021
3) Lee Yoonjoo, "Economist "Korea Ranks Last Among 29 OECD Countries in the Glass Ceiling Index"", Hankook Ilbo, March 9, 2022
4) Jeong Jinyong, ""How Dare You" What Are the Consequences of Intensifying False Accusations Punishment?", Kuki News, March 14, 2022
5) Yoo Seonhee, "'Strengthening Gender Labor Disclosure'... There Are No Measures to Improve the Structure of Employment and Wage Inequality", Kyunghyang Shinmun, March 27, 2022
6) Lee Jubin, "There Is No the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family's 'Solo Assignment' in 110 State Affairs Under the Yoon Seokyeol Administration", The Hankyoreh, May 3, 2022