A growing desire to move toward a more ‘gender balanced cabinet’
There were two female ministers at the Cabinet when the Park administration took office. However, it is now down to one. With the appointment of the ruling party lawmaker Lee Jooyoung as the Minister of Ocean and Fisheries, Minister Cho of Gender Equality and Family is now the only female minister. At a time when the global trend is to establish a ‘gender balanced Cabinet,’ the Blue House seems to be going backwards. Though the recent appointment is understandable in that there are few women leaders in the Ministry of Ocean and Fisheries, there is a growing demand for a gender balance in the Cabinet in order to live up to Korea’s status as one of the top 10 players in the global economy.
Given that it is almost a norm to name a woman as the Minister of Gender Equality and Family, the Park administration was not active in boosting women’s presence in the Cabinet. There are only three vice ministerial-level officers: Vice Minister Jeong Hyunok of Employment and Labor, Vice Minister Lee Boksil of Gender Equality and Family, and Director Na Seonhwa of Cultural Heritage Administration. Among 72 ministers and vice ministers, there are only four females(5.5%). This is much lower than Lee Myungbak administration’s 13% and Roh Moohyun administration’s 21%.
Among 53 officers who hold secretarial or higher positions in the Blue House, there are only five women(9.4%). Also, all the chief secretaries are men.
Female representation in Korea is much lower than OECD’s average of 24.9%. Female ministers make up more than 50% in Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Iceland. It goes well beyond 30% in Western European countries like Germany, Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands(as of 2012). Professor Choi Yeonhyuk of the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies said, “It appears that President Park is trying to pursue a balanced approach, instead of siding with or representing women. However, by doing so, she fails to live up to female voters’ expectations. We have to further promote gender equality based on which we can build a creative economy.”
People are divided over the dismissal of Yoon Jinsook, the former Minister of Ocean and Fisheries. While some criticized Yoon’s inappropriate personal behavior, others pointed out the Ministry’s insufficient response in general. Also, there is quite a number of people who wonder whether Yoon’s case was critical enough to dismiss her even when leaders of financial authorities haven’t been held responsible over the leakage of credit card personal information.
Among government officials, it is true that basically no one supported the former Minister Yoon since she was named the head of a newly created ministry. But now, criticism over a witch hunt-like media coverage is growing.
“Minister Yoon did not have much experience in politics. She used to be a researcher. Civil servants at the Ministry should have fully prepared for her confirmation hearing or an interpellation. It was insufficient preparation and response that made Yoon seem incompetent. Another problem was a witch hunt-like media coverage which highlighted weaknesses of an old, single woman in a patriarchal manner,” said Cho Jooeun, an official at the National Assembly Research Service. Women activists argue that there needs to be stronger support for women leaders so that they can effectively respond to media bias.
Women groups chose to wait and see whether President Park would keep her presidential campaign pledge to set up a pool of 100,000 female talents by 2017 and help improve gender equality at senior levels in the government.
In addition to utilizing the government’s initiative, expertise, leadership, and experiences in politics are key building blocks to become a competent senior official. Women themselves recognize this as well. Official Cho from the National Assembly Research Service emphasized the importance of leadership training programs.