“Happy to be able to instill a vision in young women”
The impenetrable “glass ceiling” of prosecutors’ organization has finally been broken. The heroine who pierced through the thick wall is the prosecutors’ ‘biggest sister’ Cho Hee-jin (51, graduate of 19th class of Judicial Research and Training Institute), who was newly appointed as the chief prosecutor of Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office. On December 19, she was appointed as the deputy chief prosecutor of Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office. In the 65-year history of prosecutors’ office, she is the first female to take the position.
In an interview with the Women’s News (WN), which was held on December 24, her first day of office, the newly appointed deputy chief, Cho, said “Most of all, I am glad that I can instill pride an vision in the 500 young women who comprise 25% of the whole prosecutors and that I’ve shown a strong presence as a female prosecutor.”
Cho started her life as a prosecutor at the Seoul District Prosecutors’ Office in 1990 after graduating the Judicial Research and Training Institute. Although in 1982, women like former lawmaker Cho Baesook and lawyer Lim Sook-kyung were both appointed as prosecutors, as they converted to judges, there were no other female prosecutors left. As the only female prosecutor, she became the ‘number one female prosecutor,’ pioneering new paths in everything she did: She served as the first Women’s Policy Officer in the Ministry of Justice, the first female vice senior prosecutor, the first female professor of the Judicial Research and Training Institute, and the first female chief prosecutor of Cheonan branch of Daejeon District Prosecutors’ Office.
The sense of responsibility as the ‘number one woman’ was the biggest driving force for her to reach this position. Cho hinted the immense difficulties she had to overcome until now, saying “In fact, there were times when I wanted to give up. However, as the highest female prosecutor, I felt a sense of duty that I must be an exemplar to other young women prosecutors. That sense of calling gave me the strength to come this far.”
This is also why she wrote numerous dissertations and books on violence against women and sexual crimes against children and teenagers. With fellow women prosecutors, she published “Women and Law”, the first source book that includes various studies on violence against women, in 2005. In addition, when she was serving as the Women’s Policy Officer, she held a seminar on violence against women, which was unprecedented in the Ministry of Justice. Last September, she planned a seminar on the punishment and prevention of human trafficking, which was, once again, the first in the history of the Ministry of Justice and Prosecutors’ Office.
The biggest obstacle in her 24-year career as a prosecutor came when she became after childbirth. “After giving birth to my son, my health deteriorated. I had to undergo surgeries and hospitalization for several years,” recalled Cho. She also confessed that, just like other working mothers, maintaining work-life balance was tough. “I couldn’t pay much attention to house chores and parenting due to frequent overtime work and emergencies. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for my understanding husband and mother who took care of child-rearing and house chores.”
In fact, even for Cho, who is known as “the symbol of female prosecutors,” promotion was not easy. Last April, she was a strong, rising candidate for deputy chief position, but she failed to gain promotion. This time, Korean Women Lawyers Association issued a statement and urged the appointment of a female deputy chief. WN also contributed to the effort by running the article, “A Way to Reform Crisis-ridden Prosecution Authority”
Lastly Cho advised young female prosecutors that, “Developing your field of expertise is the only way to survive in the competition against men.”