SEOUL, South Korea — Lee Yunju has poked her head within the feminism aisle of the library at her college in Daegu, South Korea. However she is hesitant to do greater than that.
“I really feel cautious even choosing up a feminist e-book,” stated Lee, 22, a scholar in robotics engineering. “Plenty of Koreans really feel very antagonistic towards feminists and feminism, so we don’t even speak about it.”
Lee is one among 16.3 million individuals who voted for Yoon Suk Yeol this yr as president of South Korea, a U.S. ally and the world’s Tenth-largest financial system. The nation has lengthy struggled to handle gender inequality, rating 99th out of 146 international locations within the World Financial Discussion board’s 2022 report. Now, girls’s rights teams and opposition events fear the nation’s gender inequality may worsen underneath the conservative authorities, saying Yoon has capitalized on anti-feminist backlash.
Specialists say Yoon struck the largest nerve amongst youthful male voters by pledging to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Household, arguing that discrimination is now a person challenge, not structural, and that the ministry now not has motive to exist. The topic is without doubt one of the most polarizing of Yoon’s presidency, creating an unsure future for a authorities physique that supporters say is significant for selling the rights of girls, kids and households.
In October, the Yoon administration unveiled plans for a brand new Well being Ministry division that will soak up the capabilities of the gender ministry, a part of a broader organizational shake-up that’s now being thought-about by South Korean lawmakers.
“It’s time for the nation to shift from a paradigm of girls’s insurance policies, specializing in bettering discrimination towards girls, to a paradigm of gender equality for each women and men,” Inside Minister Lee Sang-min stated within the authorities’s announcement.
The plan might have problem passing within the nationwide legislature, the place the opposition Democratic Celebration has a majority. Public opinion polls on the problem are blended, together with amongst folks Lee’s age.
“I don’t suppose any of my pals assist maintaining the ministry,” stated Lee, who lives in one among South Korea’s most conservative areas, referring to each female and male pals. Lee stated she felt ambivalent as nicely.
This ambivalence exists regardless of stark inequality in South Korea, the place girls, although extremely educated, face the best wage hole of the 38 largely high-income, developed member international locations within the Group for Financial Cooperation and Growth.
In South Korea, girls make up 19% of lawmakers, in contrast with 27% within the U.S. Congress, and 4.8% of executives on the nation’s high 100 firms, in accordance with a research by headhunting agency Unicosearch. There are at the moment three girls in Yoon’s 19-member Cupboard.
Gender and feminism performed an unprecedented function within the presidential election in March, which Yoon gained by lower than 1%, the closest in South Korean historical past. Each Yoon and his fundamental opponent, Democratic Celebration candidate Lee Jae-myung, used gender points to enchantment to younger voters who’ve grow to be a vital swing bloc.
Yoon, a former prosecutor, blamed feminism for the nation’s low beginning price, stated he would enhance penalties for false accusations of sexual crimes, and denied the existence of “structural discrimination based mostly on gender.” He accused the gender ministry of treating males like “potential intercourse criminals.”
“When Yoon turned president, I felt devastated,” stated Woo Ah-young, a 30-year-old workplace employee in Seoul who identifies as a feminist. “I’m not precisely positive what is going to occur sooner or later … However I really feel like my life will grow to be extra tiresome.”
Simply 5 years in the past, throughout the 2017 election, endorsing feminism was a bipartisan development. Moon Jae-in, who gained by a report 17 factors, declared himself a feminist in his marketing campaign, as did his conservative rivals. However by the top of his time period this yr, the tides had turned drastically. Anti-feminist voters, significantly younger males of their 20s, emerged as a political pressure, rooting for Yoon and his Individuals Energy Celebration.
In response to a 2019 survey by native information outlet SisaIN, 60% of males of their 20s confirmed a substantial to excessive aversion to feminism.
“They consider they’re being discriminated towards,” Cheon Gwan-yul, the journalist who led the survey, stated on the time. Like opponents of feminism in different components of the world, respondents argued that the motion promotes feminine supremacy and misandry.
“Aversion to feminism is shared throughout generations, however males of their 20s categorical it most aggressively,” stated Park Jeonghoon, writer of “There’s No Such Factor as a Good Man,” a e-book that discusses the anti-feminist backlash amongst younger males in South Korea. “I feel it’s due to a uniquely Korean state of affairs: They must go to the army.”
South Korea, which technically stays at struggle with neighboring North Korea, requires all able-bodied males ages 18 to twenty-eight to serve not less than 18 months within the army, inflicting delays of their training and early profession which are perceived as giving girls a bonus.
“I felt equally in my 20s,” Park, now 34, advised NBC Information. “I used to be pressured by the state to serve. I couldn’t resist towards the state … I turned indignant that ladies weren’t going.”
One other frequent idea for the anti-feminist backlash factors to Moon’s failure to curb youth unemployment and runaway housing costs, together with the rise in inequality.
“The sentiment now’s, ‘Who took what’s mine?’” stated Chung Hyun-back, a former gender minister for Moon. “Individuals are pissed off with the financial inequalities and their worsening private conditions — the place do these frustrations go? In some international locations, it’s refugees or migrant employees. In South Korea, it’s the gender challenge.”
To some, the gender ministry is a logo of what they see because the excesses of feminism. In a public petition earlier this yr that acquired over 50,000 votes, the ministry was described as being “unconstitutional” and “inciting gender battle.”
“Possibly the ministry’s insurance policies profit girls, however I don’t really feel it as a person,” stated Daniel Kim, a 33-year-old workplace employee in Seoul who agrees the ministry needs to be abolished however doesn’t determine as anti-feminist.
The gender ministry was based in 2001 underneath the Kim Dae-jung administration, South Korea’s first left-leaning authorities. For the previous 20 years, it has championed girls’s rights, together with taking part in a key function within the 2008 abolition of South Korea’s “hoju” system of household registration, which had been criticized as male-dominated.
The ministry has fewer than 300 workers and the smallest finances of any division: 1.47 trillion gained ($1 billion), about 0.24% of all authorities spending. In response to a research final yr by the Korea Ladies’s Growth Institute, 80% of that finances is allotted to family-related tasks, together with supporting single mother and father, whereas 9.2percentt is used for victims of sexual and home abuse. Solely 7.2% goes to insurance policies particularly focusing on girls.
Supporters of the ministry say its work advantages a variety of individuals, together with males.
“In fact girls in some lessons, particularly the higher ranges, are nicely off, even superior to some males,” stated Woo, the feminist workplace employee. “However girls don’t dwell monolithic lives. There are totally different girls in quite a lot of conditions. The gender ministry goals to guard the marginalized in our society. This safety should proceed.”
Chung, the previous gender minister, stated Korean society has benefited from discussing the ministry’s future: “Individuals are actually extra conscious of how essential this gender challenge is.”