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Reality check: How diverse is Korea really? Women in politics (1)

Korea has had only one woman at the pinnacle of power, and women in politics still struggle for equal representation

By Shin Ji-hye

Published : Jan. 21, 2024 - 15:25

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Half of Korea's population are women, yet in the realm of politics, women are a minority group.

In the current 21st session of parliament, the representation of female lawmakers stands at 57 out of the total 300 members -- only 19.1 percent.

This percentage places South Korea significantly below average in terms of gender diversity in politics compared to other nations.

The average among the 38 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member nations is 33.8 percent, while the global average is 25.6 percent. Even the average among Asian nations is higher than that of Korea at 20.8 percent.

In the global ranking for gender equality in politics, South Korea occupies the 121st position out of 193 countries, according to a report by the Korea Women Parliamentarian Network.

While women’s suffrage was introduced in 1948 in the Constitution as part of Korea’s nation-building process as a modern democracy following the end of World War II and Japan’s colonial rule, it is noteworthy that the country’s first assembly, formed that year to draft the Constitution, did not include any female representatives. A year later, Yim Young-shin became the nation’s first female lawmaker, elected through a by-election.

Over at the executive branch, South Korea currently has 5 women holding ministerial positions out of a total 19, or 26.3 percent.

The country has had a single female head of state -- former President Park Geun-hye -- who held the top office for four years until March 2017, before she was impeached.

Is South Korea really becoming more diverse? The Korea Herald offers a reality check by examining data on representation in the fields of politics, business and society according to gender, age, ability, sexual identity and nationality. A complete version of this series was printed in the Jan. 2 edition of The Korea Herald. – Ed.