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Women’s rights take back seat in parliamentary elections

A coalition of women's rights group holds a press conference near the National Assembly in Seoul, Dec. 12, 2023, calling for increased female representation in Korean politics. Newsis

Discussions concerning women’s rights and gender equality are expected to be limited in the upcoming National Assembly, as few political parties — none of them major — have included campaign pledges to address these agendas.Women’s rights activists are concerned that the absence of such dialogue, coupled with a significantly low number of female candidates, would result in a diminished representation of women in the 22nd National Assembly.Out of a total of 59 political parties competing in the April 10 general elections, 33 have uploaded their list of campaign pledges on the National Election Commission (NEC) website.Upon reviewing the pledges of the 33 parties, The Korea Times found that only four minor progressive parties – the Green Justice Party, the New Jinbo Party, the Labor Party and the Women’s Party – have prominently included the enhancement of gender equality as their main agendas.Major parties such as the ruling People Power Party (PPP) and the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) have categorized women-related agendas under pledges to address demographic challenges, protect labor rights, or enhance social protection against crimes.Some parties appear to be backtracking on their support for gender equality.The Jayu Party, an ultra right-wing party, vowed to amend relevant laws to ensure that “education on gender equality aligns with biblical values that uphold the sanctity of life, not toward gender freedom, in order to protect family values and childbirth.” This would entail reducing budgets currently allocated for gender equality and women’s rights policies, the party said.

The virtual absence of campaign pledges on women’s rights is noteworthy, considering that out of a total of 44.25 million eligible voters in the upcoming election, slightly over half, or 50.7 percent, are women, according to NEC data.Women’s rights groups expressed deep disappointment at the lack of attention to these issues.”It’s difficult for me to evaluate which party would perform well and which would not in terms of women’s rights because, technically, none of the parties have prioritized gender-related issues in their election campaigns,” said Do Gyeong-eun, an activist at Korea Women’s Hotline.Do criticized the major parties’ inclusion of women policies in the category of measures to tackle demographic challenges, stating that such a tendency reflects “the outdated narrative that women bear a greater responsibility for the nation’s low birthrate.”She also voiced concerns about the lack of female candidates.Out of a total 696 candidates running in 254 constituencies nationwide, only 98 are women, accounting for just 14 percent of the total. This falls far below the Public Election Law’s recommended level of 30 percent.Even if all 98 female candidates were to win, which is highly unlikely, the representation of women in the 22nd Assembly would still be below the 19 percent of the current one.”The figure is particularly concerning given that the nation needs more female members in the next Assembly to counteract the incumbent administration’s policies that retrogress on women’s rights,” Do said. “This election overall highlights that Korea still has a long way to go to change 슬롯놀이터 the male-dominated political arena.”

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