At a Distance: UCLA professors debrief impact of South Korean election on women’s rights, economy
(Anushka Chakrabarti/Daily Bruin senior staffer)
April 10, 2022 10:52 p.m.
Editor’s note: The Daily Bruin updated the previous version of the art to remove decorative blue and red stripes that were added over the Korean national flag.
Bruins come from all around the world, from Colombia to Bangladesh. Events happening across the globe can impact a person all the way in Los Angeles. In “At a Distance,” Daily Bruin writers will look at international events and highlight University of California community members’ perspectives on the topics.
Following the most recent South Korean presidential election, issues of gender equality and economic stability in the country will persist, UCLA professors said.
The South Korean presidential election, held on March 9, resulted in the conservative candidate Yoon Suk Yeol winning against liberal candidate Lee Jae-myung, according to The New York Times. Yoon, a former prosecutor, will replace President Moon Jae-in when his term ends in May.
Throughout his campaign, Yoon cultivated anti-feminist sentiments that appealed to voters that believe women get extra advantages in South Korea that men don’t receive, said Jennifer Jung-Kim, a professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures.
“I think there’s a lot of that kind of feeling as well, that if you’re advocating for women’s rights, then it has to come at the cost of something which could be male lives or male rights.” Jung-Kim said.
There is a common perception among men in their 20s that they are being discriminated against, said Namhee Lee, a professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures. This has led to backlash against the feminist movement in South Korea from this same group and allowed for Yoon to gather enough support to be elected, Lee added.
“Some people will say, ‘Oh, well, it’s not mainstream feminism. It’s the radical feminism that’s the problem,’” Jung-Kim said. “But still, the fact that they think it’s radical, you know, I think is a problem.”
During his campaign, Yoon promised to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, according to The New York Times.
Jung-Kim said Yoon also promised to introduce tougher penalties for false claims of sexual assault. She added that while the ministry needs a lot of improvements, it shouldn’t be completely abolished because there’s a lot of legislative work left to be done.
However, Jung-Kim also said the latest news is that Yoon is no longer planning to abolish the ministry after his victory.
Even with the likely lack of support for women’s rights during Yoon’s five-year presidency, the implications won’t be much different from previous elections, said Judy Han, a professor of gender studies. She added that feminist activists have had to work for any social and policy change under liberal administrations too.
She also said the fight for gender equality may be different with Yoon’s administration but that feminism is not a minority stance in South Korean politics.
Jung-Kim said she has faith in South Korean feminists’ ability to push the Yoon administration to support gender equality even though she is pessimistic that Yoon will make an effort toward progress himself.
However, regarding South Korean well-being more generally, Lee said she does not think Yoon’s five-year presidency will be able to fix the systematic issues he campaigned to solve, such as housing and income inequality as well as a lack of social mobility. She said that in past administrations, more conservative presidents have actually made these structural issues worse.
Han said Yoon’s win can also likely be attributed both to conservative support and distrust of Moon among members of the Democratic Party of Korea. Moon’s failure to achieve most of his campaign promises and a lack of transparency curated liberal disappointment with their own party, Han said.
During his election campaign, Yoon captured some voter support by capitalizing on job and economic insecurity, especially among young men and women, Han said. She added that Yoon played up his ability to create a different and liveable future for young adults.
Jung-Kim said that during the next five years, feminists will have to work harder to gather general public support to pressure politicians to advocate for women’s rights.
“Long term, I think people are saying, ‘This too shall pass,’” Han said. “Hopefully in five years, perhaps a different type of presidency, but for the time being, let’s just continue the fight, let’s fight for what we can, and hopefully build political power to hopefully elect someone better next time.”