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New South Korea government seeks to abolish gender equality ministry

South Korea’s new conservative government has said it will push to abolish a ministry on gender equality and create a new agency tasked with broader responsibilities (Kim Seung-doo/Yonhap/AP)
South Korea’s new conservative government has said it will push to abolish a ministry on gender equality and create a new agency tasked with broader responsibilities (Kim Seung-doo/Yonhap/AP)

South Korea’s new conservative government has said it will push to abolish a ministry on gender equality and create a new agency tasked with broader responsibilities.

The move was one of President Yoon Suk Yeol’s contentious promises during March’s hotly contested election campaign.

During the campaign, Mr Yoon faced criticism that his vow to scrap the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family sought to appeal to young male voters who decry gender equality policies in a highly competitive job market.

Mr Yoon said it was time to launch a body with more comprehensive roles, saying that women in South Korea no longer face structural barriers to success.

The prospect for his government’s plans to scrap the ministry is still unclear as it requires approval from the liberal-controlled Parliament.

A women’s committee at the main liberal opposition Democratic Party has vowed to thwart the government’s plans, saying they would not resolve systemic discrimination against women in South Korea.

South Korea Gender Equality Ministry
Interior and Safety Minister Lee Sang-min said the gender equality ministry is limited in its ability to handle an array of broader urgent issues (Kim Seung-doo/Yonhap/AP)

Interior and Safety Minister Lee Sang-min told a televised briefing on Thursday that the new paradigm for government polices for women must be about equal rights for both men and women, unlike the current approach which only focuses on resolving inequalities facing women.

Mr Lee said the gender equality ministry has made efforts to address discrimination against women, but that the ministry is limited in its ability to handle an array of broader urgent issues including gender and generational conflicts, a shrinking population and social problems for the elderly.

He said the ministry’s duties on gender equality and family and juvenile issues will be transferred to the Health and Welfare Ministry, while its responsibilities on women’s employment will go to the Ministry of Employment and Labour.

He said the Yoon government would want to establish a new agency in charge of population, family and gender equality issues under the Health and Welfare Ministry.

Lee said he had informed the Democratic Party of the restructuring plans and that opposition party officials voiced worries that the plans would end up scaling back current roles by the gender equality ministry. Lee said under the reorganization plans, the roles and tasks provided to the ministry would be conducted more effectively.

Earlier this week, a women’s committee at the Democratic Party issued a statement accusing the Yoon government of attempting to use the restructuring plans to divert public attention from several alleged foreign policy missteps including controversial comments by Yoon caught on a hot mic in the United States. It said it will take strong steps to obstruct the plans from becoming law.

The Yoon government and the Democratic Party have been on a collision course on a number of issues including government pushes to investigate past incidents allegedly involving the Democratic Party chief and other previous government officials. Last week, the Democratic Party, which has a majority status at the National Assembly, passed a motion calling for the dismissal of Yoon’s foreign minister, but the president has refused to accept it.