A year on from the 2022 South Korean presidential election, gender equality is a more polarising political issue than ever

One writer analyses issues with gender equality, feminism, and misogyny in South Korean politics

Anna-Louise Davies
9th March 2023
Image credit: Flickr.
The 2022 South Korean presidential election saw success for the People Power party, with their nominee Yoon Suk-yeol, elected by the closest margin in the country’s recent history. A year on from the election, there is domestic and international outrage over the administration's attempts to abolish the gender ministry.

Despite experiencing a veritable explosion of economic growth in the aftermath of the Korean War and becoming one of the world's most technologically advanced nations, South Korea’s regressive attitudes and policies towards women have remained. The current president, Yoon Suk-yeol, has capitalised on the rising anti-feminist sentiment amongst young South Korean men, claiming that feminism is to blame for the country having the world's lowest birth rate and calling for the abolition of the gender equality ministry. Additionally, he promised to intensify the punishment for false accusations of sexual violence. 

South Korean women are hugely underrepresented in leadership positions across the country

Although many young South Korean men, concerned about the implications of female advancement on their financial security and job prospects, consider Yoon's election to be a triumph, there has been a significant backlash among feminist activists. Women’s rights organisations in the country have argued that if the President makes good on his pledges, women will be deterred from reporting sexual violence. They have also asserted that it would prevent more women from assuming leadership roles. A mere 5.7% of executive positions in the country’s publicly listed organisations are held by women.

Activists' concerns are not unfounded, especially given that the new President abolished government gender quotas upon his inauguration and only appointed three women to his cabinet. The Gender Equality Ministry has since been under threat of being dissolved - despite accounting for only 0.2% of the government’s budget - leaving women and victims of sexual violence with the prospect of even greater vulnerability. 

South Korea has long had one of the largest gender pay gaps in any OECD country

South Korea’s issues with misogyny is certainly not a recent phenomenon, with the gender pay gap having long been one of the largest amongst OECD countries. Additionally, the installation of ‘spycams’, an issue which has long plagued the country, is also demonstrative of a disparity in the political establishment's attitudes towards issues affecting women. Miniscule cameras, hidden in locations such as public bathrooms and hotels, have likewise sparked outrage amongst women, who are by far the main victims of these crimes. The images and videos obtained are made available online and can be accessed upon payment, violating the privacy and dignity of those recorded.

The Gender Equality Ministry, though currently still in existence, continues to provoke debate amongst South Korean citizens. What will happen if Yoon makes good on his promise to get rid of it remains to be seen.

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