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Main parties to lock horns over abolition of Gender Ministry

Gender Minister Kim Hyun-sook speaks at a press briefing held Thursday at the governmental complex in central Seoul. (Yonhap)
Gender Minister Kim Hyun-sook speaks at a press briefing held Thursday at the governmental complex in central Seoul. (Yonhap)

The Yoon Suk-yeol administration has begun the official process of shutting down the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, but turbulence is expected, as the main opposition party remains against the abolition.

According to the plans set out by the Yoon administration, the ministry would be shut down and its focus on youth, family and gender equality would be transferred to a bureau under the Ministry of Health and Welfare under the name of "Population Family Gender Equality Division." Functions regarding employment of women would be transferred to the Ministry of Employment and Labor.

Gender Minister Kim Hyun-sook said the ministry’s roles would remain even after the transfer, in response to concern that the abolition would lead to neglect.

“We will work on making sure that the ministry's functions such as the protection of youth, and policies related to families and women, will continue even after the ministry has been transferred,” Kim said at a press briefing held Thursday.

“Gender equality policies, which were focused on women, will be expanded into policies for both men and women,” she added.

The reform, however, requires the approval of the Democratic Party of Korea, which holds a majority in parliament, with 169 out of 299 seats.

"Bringing up the abolition of the Gender Ministry seems to be an effort to turn the eyes of (the public) away from the president's hot mic incident," Rep. Jang Kyung-tae said on a radio show on Thursday.

According to the president's own press secretary, who said Yoon's derisive term recently caught on a hot mic referred to members of the National Assembly here, "Yoon does not think of the parliament as his partner in state governance," Jang said. "It is hard to understand the sudden reform of the government organization."

Jang was referring to President Yoon Suk-yeol’s alleged use of a vulgar insult to refer to a legislature during his trip to the US. Which legislature -- US or Korean -- and the exact words Yoon used is still subject to debate.

Lawmakers in the Gender Equality and Family Committee also warned the abolition could lead to a retrograde of gender equality policies due to the "lack of the control tower."

Yeh Yun-hae, vice spokesperson for the progressive Justice Party, also criticized the abolition plan.

“The Yoon administration and the People Power Party are admitting that gender equality does not matter and they have no will to support women who are victims of violence, career-interrupted women and multicultural families,” Yeh said. "They should stop the abolition of the Gender Ministry, which sets back women's rights and gender equality.”

The People Power Party is to table a bill on the reform of the Government Organization Act. The bill, however, cannot pass the National Assembly without cooperation from the Democratic Party.

The ruling party is calling for the opposition party's cooperation.

"(The opposition party) has expressed its concern on the abolition of the Gender Ministry and adjustment of its roles," Rep. Joo Ho-young, floor leader of the ruling party, said at a party meeting held Thursday.

"Though the Democratic Party may not fully agree with (the abolition) it was the pledge of (our party) during the presidential election and a promise made with the people," Joo said. "Government will do the work. It would be nice if the government can decide on which organizations to work with."

Women’s rights groups issued a statement Wednesday criticizing the abolition plan.

“This is a time when women experience violence and are murdered at work,” the statement read. “We condemn the government and People Power Party who are mentioning abolition of the Gender Ministry to overcome their political crisis, setting back women’s rights and gender equality measures at a time when the functions and responsibility of the Gender Ministry should be reinforced.”



By Im Eun-byel (silverstar@heraldcorp.com)
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