2013 was a year that began with hope and ended with anxiety. A female president was born for the first time in the history of the constitutional government, but no women made it into the Blue House Secretariat. Former Blue House Spokesman Yoon Chang-jung’s sexual harassment involving an intern, former Vice Justice Minister Kim Hak-eui’s sex parties, and other high-ranking officials’ sexual ethics issues burst out when it was about time to forget the previous one. The government’s flexitime project that is being enthusiastically push forward in order to achieve the 70% employment rate goal, is being sharply criticized for producing temporary employees. However, because women are seizing opportunities in every circle, we can now commonly hear the phrase ‘now is the generation of women.’
The opening of the first female president era in the history of constitutional government
On February 25, Park Geun-hye started her 5-year term as the 18th president, ushering in an era of the female president generation for the first time in the history of constitutional government.
Park Geun-hye was evaluated to have raised national awareness on violence against women by prioritizing eradication of the ‘four major social threats,’ which are sexual violence, school violence, domestic violence, and unsanitary food, as key government tasks. She also announced comprehensive plans on preventing sexual violence and domestic violence by jointing relevant authorities in June.
Due to Park Geun-hye’s entry into the Blue House, there was a lot of anticipation that ‘women’s generation’ will begin in earnest, especially for the important positions in the government. However, only two female ministers (Minister Yoon Jin-suk of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries and Minister Cho Yoon-sun of Gender Equality and Family Cho Yoon-sun) made it to Park administration’s first cabinet, casting a shadow on the so called ‘female president generation’.
Park Geun-hye, who is entering her second year in office, is faced with a calling of the era to draw up a blueprint for becoming a gender-equal country.
Former Blue House Spokesman Yoon Chang-jung’s sex harassment involving an intern
An unprecedented and unimaginable incident occurred during the the first female president’s first official trip abroad: the Blue House spokesman was fired for sexual assault. Earlier last May, during President Park’s state visit to the US, former Blue House Spokesman Yoon Chang-jung drank alcohol and sexually assaulted a female intern who was accompanying him. When the incident was known to public by the victim’s report, he had returned to Korea alone and held a press conference, denying all allegations.
The scandal, which later developed into false explanation by Yoon, inappropriate remarks by some figures and secondary violence on the victim by netizens, revealed the low level of awareness on sexual violence held by the Korean society as well as high-ranking officials.
Prosecutor General Chae Dong-wook resigns after controversy over extramarital son
Former Prosecutor General Chae Dong-wook, who was investigating National Intelligence Service’s intervention in the presidential election, resigned 180 days after his inauguration because of the ‘suspicion surrounding the existence of an extramarital son’. It all began in earlier September when Chosun Ilbo reported on his alleged extramarital relationship, which lasted for about 10 years, and the existence of a hidden love child. Chae denied all allegations and stepped down as Prosecutor General.
Women expressed their outrage stating that it was a “human rights abuse on single-parent families”. Korean Women’s Association United criticized that “Despite the fact that the single-parent woman and the child’s human rights are severely violated, our society is simply focusing on whether Prosecutor General Chae Dong-wook’s extramarital child really exists or not. No one seems to have any considerations or sympathy for the pain relevant individuals are going through in the process despite leaking personal information”
Nevertheless, what shocked women most was the controversy over public officials’ keeping a concubine until this day.
The spread of flexitime jobs… criticized as a ‘low-wage, part-time jobs’
Flexitime jobs, which supposedly were no different from regular jobs but gave flexibility in terms of working hours, were promoted as a core economic policy for achieving 70% employment rate. The government declared to create 16,500 jobs until 2017 in the public sector, and even private enterprises such as Samsung Group, Shinsegae and POSCO competitively announced their job creation plans.
Women who experienced career break – who had no choice but to give up their jobs in order to raise children due to corporate culture characterized by long working hours – showed much interest in the flexitime jobs. For instance, in the recruitment for the first returnship program held recently by CJ Group, around 2,530 people signed up, recording a competition rate of 17:1.
However, many criticize that flexitime expansion policy will only lead to more low-wage, part-time jobs. In fact, most flexitime workers in public institutions are non-regular workers, and 75% were temporary workers, who receive only a minimum wage. This is why many note that for flexitime jobs to become “desirable quality jobs,’ there should not be any unreasonable discrimination from regular workers with regards to wage, social insurance, and promotion.
Abolition of the personal accusation system for sexual offense… criminals to be punished without any criminal complaints
Women’s long-cherished wish to abolish the personal accusation system for sexual assault has been fulfilled at last in 60 years since legislation.
The personal accusation system has led to an incorrect recognition that sexual violence is a personal matter, and in order to reach settlement, the assailants oftentimes threatened the victims or casted them as gold diggers. However since June 19, the personal accusation system and no punishment against will have been abolished in the amendment process of Special Act on Sexual Violence. The personal accusation system requires victim’s accusation in order to prosecute, and no punishment against will means that criminals must not be punished when the victim ‘does not wish for punishment’. Due to such changes, now sexual offenders may be prosecuted and punished without accusation from victims.
Strong demand for the enactment of child abuse prevention act
People across the country became outrageous as reports on child abuse came out. In Ulsan, a a woman beat her 8-year-old step daughter to death, while in Busan, a teacher at a nursery school habitually assaulted the children. Unfortunately, such repeated tragedies were just the tip of an iceberg.
The number of child abuse cases reported to child protection institutions around the country increased by four times in a decade from 2,478 cases in 2002 to 8,979 cases last year. The number of children who were beaten to death also recorded 86 during the past 10 years. Likewise, growing number of child abuse cases are being reported and exposed, but there is still lack of laws related to preventing child abuse, healing the victims, and punishing the assailants. It is also a big problem that the relevant laws are dispersed in ‘the Children’s Welfare Law’, ‘Prevention of Domestic Violence and Victim Protection Act,’ and ‘Criminal Laws.’
Therefore, the public is strongly demanding a quick passage of child abuse prevention act, which has been pending for over a year. Civic groups such as ‘Association for Children Picnicking in Sky’, ‘Committee for 49 Days of Mourning for Lee Seo-hyun,‘ and ‘Footprint,’ a civic group for eradication of sexual violence against children, are preparing for a memorial ceremony for Lee Seo-hyun, an 8-year-old who was beaten to death by her step mother, and gathering signatures calling for the enactment of child abuse prevention act.
Victory against a Japanese firm for women put into forced labor, first in 68 years
After 14 years of being in litigation against Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for being conscripted into forced labor during the Japanese colonial era, the women finally won the lawsuit.
This ruling is regarded as a victory of rule of law and democracy in a fight between Korea and Japan. However, Mitsubishi appealed against the decision, which prompted heavy criticisms from the public.
During the Japanese colonial era, these women were put into forced labor in munitions manufacturing companies. Most of them were under the age of 14 at the time. There are around 100,000 victims.
Meanwhile last September in Paris, France, the first of weekly demonstrations was held, demanding compensation for “comfort women.” It showed global attention on the issue. Kim Bok-dong, a victim, and the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan gathered 100 million signatures and formed an international solidarity with women’s organizations in France, showing that efforts to solve the issue were picking up speed.
Women excelling in TV shows and plays
This year was a year in which actresses showed off their presence in TV series, as well. Actresses such as Lee Bo-young in ‘My Daughter Seo-young’ and ‘I Can Hear Your Voice’, Kim Hye-soo in ‘Queen of the Office’ and Go Hyun-jung in ‘The Queen’s Classroom’ really stood out. In addition, entertainment shows with women as main characters such as ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘Sisters over Flowers’ were a big hit. Unfortunately, movies, were dominated by male actors.
It was the elder actresses who ruled the play stages, however. In “March Snow,” Baek Sung-hee who will soon turn ninety, showed great performance that seemed impossible without her experience. Kim Hye-ja, who returned to the stage in 6 years, also acted with all her soul in “Oscar! Letter to the Gods.”
Women athletes admired by the world
It was a year in which ‘figure skating queen’ Yuna made a ‘splendid return’. In March, Kim Yuna won the gold medal in the World Championship in 4 years. This month, in the ‘Golden Spin of Zagreb,’ which was held in Croatia, she once again grabbed the gold medal after showing off her unwavering skills despite recent injury.
‘Empress of speed skating’ Lee Sang-hwa also made history in short distance speed skating this season, winning the 500m World Cup for 7 consecutive years. She also signaled bright prospects for winning the gold medal at Sochi Winter Olympics by breaking world record for 4 times. Park Inbee (KB Financial Group) subjugated the world women’s golf. After 3 successive victories in major contests, She recorded 6 victories this season, becoming LPGA Player of the Year for the first time for a Korean player.
‘Herstory of miracles,’ 25-year anniversary of Women’s News
2013 marked the 25 years of Women’s News(WN), the only women’s newspaper in Korea, which has recorded the “herstory of miracles.” WN, which was born in 1988, served as a trigger for various tasks that were long overdue, such as the legislation of laws related to women’s human rights and the abolishment of hoju system.
On July 2, a fundraising event commemorating the 25th anniversary of Women’s News was held with around 700 participants. President Park Geun-hye encouraged in a congratulatory letter that “I wish the success and development of Women’s News, a reliable spokesperson for all women for 25 years.” The Chairman of the National Assembly Kang Chang-hee said “Women’s News is the first and only women’s newspaper, silently endeavoring in advancing women rights and welfare.” Minister Cho Yoon-sun of Gender Equality and Family also highly evaluated WN saying “Thanks to WN, which took the initiative in raising women issues and approaching a social consensus on it, women’s rights and interests have been improved.” Hyundai Group President Hyun Jeong-eun congratulated by saying “Blue roses, which didn’t exist, used to mean “impossible,” but as blue roses were developed 10 years ago, now it symbolizes “miracles. The 25 years of Women’s News is a history of turning impossible into a miracle.”
Women’s News took the first step as a global media as it opened its English homepage (www.wnewsglobal.com / www.wnewsworld.com) on September 1.