SEOUL, South Korea — As South Korea enters a bitter presidential race, Hong Hee-jin is one in every of many younger ladies who really feel that the nation’s politics has change into dominated by discrimination towards ladies, even outright misogyny.
“Ladies are being handled like they don’t even have voting rights,” the 27-year-old workplace employee within the capital, Seoul, mentioned.
For years, South Korean ladies have made gradual however regular progress within the office as they confronted an entrenched tradition of male chauvinism and harassment. However this extraordinarily tight presidential race, which culminates March 9, has uncovered the fragility of what’s been gained.
Prime conservative candidate Yoon Suk Yeol and his liberal rival Lee Jae-myung — each males above 55 — are preventing for what they see as a “male” vote essential for victory. They’ve more and more targeted their messages on younger males who decry gender equality insurance policies and the lack of conventional privileges in a hyper-competitive job market.
“Politicians are taking the simple path,” Hong mentioned. “As an alternative of arising with actual insurance policies to resolve issues going through younger folks, they’re fanning gender conflicts, telling males of their 20s that their difficulties stem from ladies receiving too many advantages.”
The tensions may be seen on the streets. Lots of of girls have marched in protest towards the “election of misogyny.” Small however vocal teams of anti-feminist males have staged rallies in response.
Divisive gender politics has grown as South Korea offers with a fast-aging inhabitants, a plummeting beginning fee, hovering private debt, a decaying job market and stark inequality. There’s additionally the rising nuclear menace from North Korea and fears of being squeezed within the confrontation between the US and China.
No marketing campaign challenge, nevertheless, has triggered extra debate than Yoon’s vow to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Household, which the candidate says promotes insurance policies unfair to males.
A former prosecutor normal, Yoon, 61, has additionally vowed stronger penalties for false sexual crime experiences. Critics say this makes up solely a small variety of rape claims, and that the specter of harder punishment might intimidate victims from coming ahead amid a current male backlash towards the #MeToo motion.
Liberal ruling occasion candidate Lee, 57, has taken a cautious strategy to gender points, whereas clashing with Yoon over the economic system and North Korea coverage.
Narrowly trailing Yoon within the polls, Lee has confronted calls to attraction to extra younger males, whose assist of conservative candidates in mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan might have led to a surprising double-defeat for the liberals.
Lee has described gender tensions as associated to joblessness and says males shouldn’t be discriminated towards. He mentioned he plans to maintain the gender ministry, however underneath a special Korean title that now not contains the phrase “ladies.”
Yoon’s marketing campaign has been influenced by his occasion’s chairman, Lee Jun-seok, a 36-year-old Harvard-educated “males’s rights” advocate who describes hiring targets for girls and different gender equality insurance policies as “reverse discrimination.” Lee calls feminist politics “blowfish poison.”
Yoon throughout a presidential debate on Monday repeated an argument that South Korea now not has any structural boundaries to ladies’s success, saying discrimination is now about “particular person versus particular person.”
The World Financial Discussion board ranks South Korea 102 out of 156 nations in an index that examines gender gaps in jobs, training, well being and political illustration.
South Korea has by far the most important gender pay hole amongst developed economies at round 32%, based on the Paris-based Group for Financial Cooperation and Improvement, and girls stay considerably underrepresented in company boardrooms and politics. The nation’s record-low beginning fee underscores what number of ladies discover it unimaginable to mix careers and household.
Round 80% of South Koreans mentioned there’s a honest quantity of gender battle of their nation, a survey by IPSOS, a worldwide market analysis agency, confirmed.
Scrapping the gender ministry might weaken ladies’s rights and “take a toll on democracy,” mentioned Chung Hyun-back, a scholar who served as gender equality minister in 2017-18, underneath present liberal President Moon Jae-in. Additionally it is a key authorities division dedicated to serving to single mother and father, sexual abuse survivors and the households of minorities and migrants.
The prospect frustrates Kang Ji-woo, a 36-year-old single mom who as soon as struggled to discover a job in a deeply conservative society and who receives little one care assist from the gender ministry. Unwed moms in South Korea are generally pressured and shamed into having abortions or relinquishing their youngsters for adoption.
“There’s no candidate price trusting on polices aimed toward serving to the deprived,” she mentioned.
South Korean conservatives are galvanizing round a Trump-like model of divisive “identification politics” that speaks nearly solely to males after years of disarray following the 2017 ouster of the nation’s first feminine president, Park Geun-hye, over a large corruption scandal, based on Park Received-Ho, a Seoul Nationwide College politics professor.
Yoon is tapping into the resentment of males of their 20s and 30s who face a bleak job market whereas agonizing over hovering housing costs and dimming prospects for marriage and parenthood. They’re more and more delicate to competitors from ladies, who typically outpace them in school and are extra keen to interrupt from conventional gender roles for skilled development.
At the same time as many males cling to the notion that their feminine colleagues have it simpler within the office — together with being exempt from a compulsory 18-month army service — ladies have begun to extra loudly criticize a male-centered company tradition that exposes them to harassment, unequal pay and promotions, and infrequently derails their careers after they’ve youngsters.
Hong Eun-pyo, a 39-year-old who runs an anti-feminist YouTube channel, justifies increased pay for males, insisting they put in longer hours or carry out harder duties. “In the event that they need to attain as excessive as their male friends and be paid the identical wages, they need to hold working and never get pregnant,” he mentioned.
Tune Tae-woong, an workplace employee, says younger males, fearful a few life path that appears harder than their fathers, resent ladies’s rising complaints about society.
“Our mother and father’ technology, now of their 50s and 60s, acquired married early and progressed step-by-step,” he mentioned. “Folks right now are … extraordinarily stressed.”
Some consultants, together with Chung, suppose politicians are overplaying the gender grievances of sure middle-class, college-educated males who’ve change into radicalized over the web as they compete with ladies for a shrinking variety of respectable jobs.
Current surveys, nevertheless, present a placing political divide between more and more conservative younger males and their extra left-leaning feminine friends, not simply over gender points but additionally on the economic system and nationwide safety, says Park, the politics professor. This means conservatives are efficiently mobilizing their younger male supporters to again broader agendas, together with harder approaches on North Korea and insurance policies emphasizing financial development over welfare spending. Youthful ladies are left feeling largely unrepresented, polls present.
Lee Ji-young, a instructor who has risen to the highest of her area within the extremely aggressive non-public tutoring enterprise, remembers years of verbal and bodily sexual harassment and undesirable advances by male colleagues who always questioned her competitiveness.
One colleague informed her that Korean society was steady through the medieval period “as a result of ladies have been quiet, however that now they’ve ruined South Korea,” Lee mentioned.
She mentioned she as soon as twisted the wrist of a male colleague when he tried to the touch her bottom.
“Normally ladies wouldn’t react this manner,” Lee mentioned. “I’ve witnessed ladies who would cry at house or give up work … as a result of they have been afraid of being judged, personally and professionally.”