South Korean president elect retreats on anti-feminist pledge to abolish Ministry of Gender Equality

South Korean Pres Elect FI
Image: South China Morning Post; Reuters
  • South Korean president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, who vowed to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family on his campaign trail, has retracted his promise after human rights groups called the idea “a regression on women’s rights”
  • Yoon’s transition team told reporters on Thursday that his administration intended to maintain the current government structure, although “the pledge [was] still valid.”
  • Yoon’s candidacy was met with heavy criticism from feminist groups after he claimed that South Korean women do not suffer from systemic gender discrimination.
  • He appealed to young, anti-feminist men who claim the country’s women have it too good.

Conservative South Korean president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, who pledged to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family on his campaign trail, has retracted his promise after human rights groups called the idea “a regression on women’s rights.”

Ahn Cheol-soo, the People’s Party chairman in charge of Yoon’s transition team, told reporters on Thursday that the administration intended to keep the existing government structure. 

“It was judged that it would be better to focus on current state affairs rather than making an early decision and pushing ahead with [government restructuring] during the transition period,” Ahn said.

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Choo Kyung-ho, another official on the transition team, added that “the pledge [was] still valid,” but the plan had been delayed due to “different opinions” on how to restructure the government.  

Yoon won the presidential election by a 0.7 percent margin, and his candidacy faced heavy criticism from feminist groups after he claimed that South Korean women do not suffer from systemic gender discrimination. During his campaign, Yoone appealed to young, anti-feminist men who claim the country’s women have it too good, citing mandatory military conscription as a disadvantage when applying for jobs. 

The reversal was announced three days after Human Rights Watch (HRW) and 116 other global organizations issued a statement on April 3 urging him to “withdraw his pledge.” It accused him of “[capitalizing] on the anti-feminist backlash” rather than “proposing reasonable policy solutions to current critical issues.”

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HRW also emphasized that the act would be a “serious regression on women’s rights” and impact not only South Korea, but “the Asia-Pacific region and the international community.”

Ahn said the transition team will choose from a list of candidates for gender minister and announce a nominee.

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