Women’s groups divided over sexist remarks
One of the two powerful women’s groups here remains silent about Rep. Lee Jae-oh’s controversial remarks that he believes South Korea is not yet ready for a female President.
Claiming that this will hold true until the two Koreas unite, the lawmaker aimed his comments at Rep. Park Geun-hye, a presidential hopeful with unrivaled support in the ruling camp.
The Korean Women’s Association United (KWAU), one of two core entities whose role is to helping the gender equality movement here bear fruit, has not released any statements in response to the politician’s sexist remark.
Asking for anonymity, the activist said her organization is concerned about the possible “unintended” consequences.
“If we assail Rep. Lee for his remarks, I am afraid the KWAU will be seen as having sided with the leading presidential candidate Park,” she argued. The activist added that she believed there was no question that the lawmaker made a mistake because he crossed the line.
The group’s silence about the comment, aside from acknowledging Lee’s slip of the tongue, is seen as bizarre because voicing concern about issues threatening women’s rights and addressing such problems is what it is supposed to do.
The KWAU’s silence over Lee’s remarks is in stark contrast with the vocal reaction from its rival group, the Korean National Council of Women (KNCW). It released a statement criticizing Rep. Lee for the slip of the tongue.
The KNCW urged the politician to make a public apology, calling on him to look at high-performing women leaders, such as Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Indian President Pratibha Patil.
The group released the statement a day after Rep. Lee made the controversial remarks during a news conference held in Seoul on Tuesday.
“Women had no first-hand experience of the grim security reality facing the nation as they are exempted from military service. Thus, I think women in politics would find it very challenging when they take over power because they also have to be commander-in-chief in the top job,” the lawmaker said.
“I think the story may be different, if the two Koreas are unified and therefore peace comes on the peninsula. But now is not the time.”
His remarks caused a stir.
Declining to give her candid opinion about Lee’s remarks, Park said it was hard to believe that people have such a view in the 21st century.
Rep. Lee later said he didn’t mean to downplay the role of women politicians, and added that he does not have any discriminatory views about women in politics.
Asked about the reason for the two women’s groups’ different reactions to Lee’s comments, a veteran civic group expert said women’s groups here are to some degree politicized.
Asking for anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the issue, she said the two different responses are a good example of this, demonstrating that they tend to side with the political entities they support.
According to the retired activist, KNCW is more conservative and has a network with the ruling Saenuri Party, whereas the liberal KWAU has strong bonds with the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP).
Kim Kum-lae, minister of gender equality and family affairs, served as secretary general of the KNCW for 10 years from 1988 before she joined the Grand National Party (now the Saenuri Party). Kim assumed the ministerial job after serving one-term as a lawmaker.
The KNCW is now led by Kim Jung-sook, a former GNP lawmaker. Meanwhile, Rep. Nam Yoon In-soon of the DUP served as representative of the KWAU for six years from 2005 before entering the political arena. Several KNCW leaders were called upon to take over key government posts during the liberal Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun governments.