Kang Kyung-wha opens up about sexism in “male-centered culture of vested interests”

Posted on : 2020-11-17 17:02 KST Modified on : 2020-11-17 17:02 KST
S. Korean foreign minister wonders whether gender is a factor in her being “bypassed” in important events
S. Korean foreign minister wonders whether gender is a factor in her being “bypassed” in important events
S. Korean foreign minister wonders whether gender is a factor in her being “bypassed” in important events

Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha said she has been constantly aware of discrimination and prejudice toward women while working in a “male-centered culture of vested interests.” Her remarks were seen as reflecting awareness of persistent speculation about her being “bypassed” as South Korea’s first female foreign minister.

While participating in a conversation at the “Future Dialogue for Global Innovation” co-organized by the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and the network tvN on Nov. 16, Jared Diamond, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of the book “Guns, Germs, and Steel” commented on the lack of an environment where women are able to show their capabilities. In response, Kang said, “I’m very working very hard in this important position of being the first female foreign minister, but there are times when I feel myself asking, ‘Is this kind of [response] because I’m a woman?’”

“There have been times when I’ve asked myself whether I’m actually accepted within the male-centered culture of vested interests,” she added.

“Whenever that happens, I just do the best I can at what I do, and if I can go to bed that night able to comfortably answer the question, ‘Did you do all you could today?’ then I sleep well and prepare for the next day,” she said.

Kang has attracted major attention since her appointment for being both the first female foreign minister and the first one who did not take the foreign service examination.

Kang’s reference to questions about whether she was “actually accepted within the male-centered culture of vested interests” appeared to reflect her awareness of ongoing speculation about her being “bypassed.” In response to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent cancellation of a scheduled South Korean visit early this month ahead of the US presidential election on Nov. 3, some news outlets suggested that South Korea was being bypassed in the US’ diplomatic efforts in Asia.

Further fueling the bypassing claims was the absence of a visible presence from MOFA last weekend while National Intelligence Service (NIS) Director Park Jie-won and others were working to improve relations with Japan. In an explanation on Nov. 16, MOFA said, “Such presumptuous and speculative articles based solely on superficial elements are not helpful in our ongoing and varied efforts to defend and promote South Korea’s national interest amid a stringent domestic and international environment.”

This is not the first time Kang has bristled at the “bypassing” controversy surrounding her. After speculation about bypassing was raised in the wake of her absence from an Oct. 7 meeting of relevant Cabinet ministers during an audit by the National Assembly Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee in the wake of the shooting of a Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries official by the North Korean military, Kang took the unusual step of speaking out publicly about how she felt “disturbed myself about not being notified about the meeting” and had “raised the issue with the National Security Council standing committee.”

Kang also expressed frustration in an Oct. 26 response to a question from People’s Party lawmaker Lee Tae-kyu, who asked whether she intended to take responsibility for an ongoing series of incidents involving sexual improprieties by employees of overseas diplomatic offices. In her reply, she said, “Lawmakers comment on ‘sexual improprieties’ and ‘lax discipline’ every time I come to the National Assembly, but as the minister I sense a kind of limitation, a limit to my leadership when it comes to various incidents that keep happening.”

By Gil Yun-hyung, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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