"How dare, you woman!" No one would imagine saying such a thing now, but you could commonly hear it in 1980s. Innocent women could easily become guilty just because they were women. In 1988, in order to overcome gender discrimination and establish true democracy, 1,000 shareholders gathered and created “Women’s News (“WN”).” Since then, WN has treaded a thorny path, serving as an unwavering spokesperson for women. 25 years have passed. People’s perception changed from “women with issues” to “women’s issues,” and now WN is working to change it once again to “women’s perspective.” To mark the 25th anniversary, Women’s News will run “Reply Women’s News” series every Friday to introduce major issues reported by Women’s News from 1988 to 2013. [Editor]
‘History and reality are not just for men.’
This was a line in Poet Yang Jeongja’s congratulatory poem in our 1991 WN New Year’s Issue. History and reality cannot be discussed without politics; not life politics like housekeeping, but real politics like Korea-keeping.
The flower of politics is election. 1991 was a year with two big national elections. On March 26th, the elections of local district councilors took place, and on June 20th, the elections of metropolitan councilors were held. It was the first step to establishing a local self-governing system, which was one of former president Roh Tae-woo’s pledges.
Women of all social standings hinted at their candidacy. They threw their hats in the ring stating that they will have frugal election campaign instead of an obsolete plutocracy election. Although it was difficult for them to have their party nominated since they had weak power in political organizations compared to men, they got out from politics inside the house and bravely took action for politics outside the house. This was because women’s political participation is the true key to solving women’s problems.
However, the reality women faced was grim. Even the Democratic Party members who claimed to be engaged in the so-called progressive politics reacted to the Family Law revision in 1990 on extending women’s legal position and rights in the family by saying, “why is it a happy occasion when men’s rights are all robbed of.”
When men gave women a tacit message “not to come out of the house”, women put their efforts together for women’s political participation. A pan-women’s meeting was organized for political participation. About 100 female public figures participated in this meeting including the president of the League of Women Voters Shin Nakgyun, the general affairs manager of the Korea National Council of Consumer Organizations Lee Jeongja, president of Korean Womenlink Han Myeong-sook and more. They demanded that “in order to create a gender equal society, we must first make the National Assembly gender equal”, and they submitted a petition to the National Assembly to support the revision of the local assembly members electoral law.
WN actively introduced the female candidates that the established media did not cover. WN interviewed why they entered politics, their political philosophy and policies and published them on every issue. There were diverse characters: from a vocalist who used to sing on stage to a doctor who used to treat patients in the hospital, a kindergarten teacher, a feminist, and more. We reported not only domestic women’s political participation but also overseas cases. The New York correspondent of WN, Ryu Sookryul intensively covered cases in advanced countries, introducing the current condition of women’s politics in the US and reviewing our future directions.
Also, we met male politicians and heard their visions on women’s policies. WN covered in our new year issue and year-end issue, the interviews with Jeong Dae-chul, the then-special advisor to the Pyungmin party governor (current Democratic party standing advisor) and the deceased Kim Dae-jung then-Democratic party co-representative (former president) and diagnosed how much sensibility the progressive politicians had for women’s rights. Kim Dae-jung Democratic party representative emphasized that “Women can change politics with the votes they hold”, and that “in order to solve women’s problems, women must vote for female candidates.”
However, the efforts were not proven by the results of the poll. Male-centered politics had a deep root. In the municipal election, a total of 124 people ran for the election and 40 women were elected. It seemed that women put up a good defense with 32.3% winning ratio. However, the metropolitan council member election resulted in a crushing defeat. Women were already ruled out from the nomination stage. The ruling party, Democratic Liberal Party nominated 11 out of 822, New Democratic Party nominated 17 out of 564 and Democratic Party nominated 5 out of 426. As a result, women faced a heavy defeat, acquiring 8 seats out of the total 866 for the Metropolitan Council. Women diagnosed that the reason they had been defeated was because “women’s political awareness is not yet developed” and “although the amount of resources and organizational power was not sufficient, each party’s nomination for the female candidates with representativeness was not enough.”
The loss brought great frustration to the women and acted as a trigger for preparing their 1992 general election. They realized that in order to break the wall of the male-centered assembly, they needed greater strength. The Korea Women’s Political Caucus was established right away to educate the women on actual political ability and numerous women announced their running for the general election. Just like the municipal election, WN also reported the interviews of the candidates running for the Metropolitan Council and supported their campaigns.
The line in the poem, “history and reality are not just for men” still has not become today’s reality. On one side, parité movement takes place, some even asserting women’s representativeness be raised to the men’s level. Yet still there is a long way to go. The number of female National Assembly members and government officials is still noticeably low compared to men’s. However, there is hope. As long as representative democracy persists in Korea, elections will continue to be held. Next year’s local election is awaiting women. At this juncture, women’s politics outside the house is needed again.