Democrats regroup after defeat, placing gender equality issues at top of agenda

Posted on : 2022-03-15 17:35 KST Modified on : 2022-03-15 17:35 KST
In the week since the election, the Democratic Party gained around 39,000 new members —72% of whom were women
Yun Ho-jung, who heads the Democratic Party’s emergency countermeasure committee, speaks at a meeting of the committee at the National Assembly in Seoul on March 14. (pool photo)
Yun Ho-jung, who heads the Democratic Party’s emergency countermeasure committee, speaks at a meeting of the committee at the National Assembly in Seoul on March 14. (pool photo)

In its objections to President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s repeated declarations of plans to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF), the Democratic Party has focused on signaling a clear emphasis on gender equality in its policy.

Its message is being read as an attempt to regroup in the wake of its election defeat, while representing the sentiments of younger women who have recently joined the party.

Yoon’s plans for abolishing the MOGEF were denounced as being “rooted in exclusion and discrimination toward women” during a meeting of Democratic Party legislators held at the National Assembly Monday for “enacting legislation for livelihoods and reform.”

Lawmaker Park Kwang-on, who heads the National Assembly Legislation and Judiciary Committee, said that Yoon had “cast aside the fundamentals of state management with his attempt to abolish the MOGEF and his statement that he does not intend to consider quotas for women on his transition committee.”

“Respect and consideration for women are a means to unite the public by establishing balance in our society and doing away with deeply rooted discrimination,” he said.

“We cannot afford to take this lightly, and the National Assembly will not agree to that either,” he added.

Fellow lawmaker Seo Young-kyo, who chairs the National Assembly Public Administration and Security Committee, said the push to abolish the MOGEF “reeks of machismo.’”

“The roles of the MOGEF include matters that relate to women in terms of children, adolescents, single-parent families, child-raising, support, and multicultural households,” she explained.

“I urge [Yoon] to take a proper look at what the MOGEF is,” she said.

Abolition of the MOGEF would entail amending the Government Organization Act — something that will not be possible without the consent of the Democratic Party, which holds a supermajority of 172 seats in the National Assembly.

The Democratic Party was not completely united in its fierce opposition to abolishing the MOGEF. When asked in an MBC radio interview that day whether he would be willing to accept the ministry’s abolition if a new gender equality committee were established, Democratic Party emergency committee member Chae Yi-bai said, “For something like that, we would need to be flexible.”

“I don’t see any reason for fixating too much on the names of agencies and things like that,” he added.

Similarly, lawmaker Noh Woong-rae, who serves as director of the Institute for Democracy, said in a KBS radio interview that “the People Power Party’s position on abolishing the MOGEF is not about getting rid of its functions and roles altogether.”

“We [in the Democratic Party] have ourselves talked about how the MOGEF cannot go on with its current functions, and how we should reorganize it under a different name,” he noted. During the election campaign, the Democratic Party pledged to change the Korean name of the ministry — which literally translates as “Ministry of Women and Family” — into one that literally corresponds to the English name “Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.”

The way in which the Democratic Party has been establishing its battle lines on the MOGEF abolition issue bears some connections with the increase in women in their 20s and 30s joining the party as members in the wake of the election.

Between the March 9 election and March 13, the Democratic Party gained around 39,000 new members, with another 64,000 or so counted as pending admission procedures. Among those who had completed joining, 72% were women, while 28% were men.

In terms of age group, the percentage of women was over 80% for new members aged 20–39 and 58% for those aged 40 and older.

It’s a case where women who feel alarmed over the sexist and misogynist elements of Yoon’s policies have been knocking on the Democratic Party’s doors — while the party opts for a strategy of actively giving them a voice.

“We’re planning on going in a direction of opposing the MOGEF’s abolition,” said one lawmaker on the party’s emergency committee.

As interim co-chairperson of its emergency committee, the Democratic Party named Park Ji-hyeon, a 26-year-old activist with Bulkkot, a group investigating the “Nth room” cybersex trafficking incident.

Speaking first at the emergency committee’s inaugural meeting that day, Park stressed a zero-tolerance policy on sexually related crimes when the party makes its nominations, while calling for increased nominations of women and younger people.

The Democratic Party plans to continue watching trends in public opinion on the MOGEF’s abolition as it steps up the level of its response.

“We predict there will be opposition to the MOGEF’s abolition not only among civic groups, but even among some members of the People Power Party,” said an official on the emergency committee.

“For now, we’re observing the trends in public opinion,” they added.

By Seo Young-ji, staff reporter

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