During the presidential election of 2022, current South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol promised to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, stating that South Korean women no longer face structural barriers hindering their success. Despite being heavily criticized for pandering to young male voters begrudged by gender equality policies in a fiercely competitive job market, the Yoon administration recently announced its plans to push forward with this promise.
On October 6, Thursday, KST, Interior and Safety Minister Lee Sang Min said that the government intends to bring in new policies that will focus on equal rights for both men and women instead of the current approach that, according to him, focuses primarily on women’s issues. He said that now the time has come to “Look at a broad range of people from youngsters to the elderly in order to meet their respective needs, rather than just at women.”
Under the new restructuring plans, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family will be abolished, and its responsibilities will be transferred to other institutions. The issues of gender equality, family, and juvenile cases will be overseen by the Health and Welfare Ministry, while women’s employment issues will be handled by the Ministry of Employment and Labor. Lee added that the government plans to establish a new agency under the Health and Welfare Ministry to supervise issues related to the country’s shrinking population as well as family and gender inequality issues.
On Friday, October 7, KST, the President told reporters that the restructuring plans would help women more efficiently.
Abolishing the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family would be about bolstering the protection of women, children, families and the socially weak.
— President Yoon Suk Yeol
But over 100 women’s rights groups have issued a joint statement in response, pledging to campaign against this move, calling it a “regression to the past when women were used as a tool for population policy.” According to them, this restructuring would ultimately take away the protection of women and other marginalized groups.
To put things into perspective, according to the Global Gender Gap Index report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2022, South Korea ranked 112 out of 146 countries in the area of economic participation and opportunity. The report also considers other areas such as Educational Attainment, Health and Development, and Political Empowerment, all of which together placed the country at the 99th rank of the Global Gender Gap Index.
The Minjoo Party (also known as the Democratic Party of Korea or DPK) currently holds a super-majority in the parliament. Its opposing stand on this decision of the government has made it uncertain whether the Yoon administration would be able to implement its plans or not. A women’s committee under the opposition accused the government of using these plans to distract the public from its several foreign policy errors in the past few months. It has vowed to thwart these propositions, stating that they will not help with the systematic discrimination women face in South Korea.