March 22, 2023

On March 4, recipients of South Korea’s annual “obstacles to gender equality” award have been introduced at an early Worldwide Girls’s Day rally in Seoul. As anticipated, among the many “winners” have been corporations with discriminatory practices and a politician who had lately made a sexist comment. However one recipient stood out from the group: Gender Equality Minister Kim Hyunsook. Kim, who is meant to be the highest advocate for ladies’s rights within the nation, was chosen to obtain the tongue-in-cheek award reportedly for her “ignorant and irresponsible” angle towards sexism.

The so-called gender equality minister’s tragicomic achievement encapsulates the state of girls’s rights in South Korea after a yr beneath Yoon Seok-yul’s conservative authorities.

Yoon received the March 9, 2022, presidential election on an brazenly misogynistic platform – he labored laborious to attraction to males who’re anxious about shedding floor to ladies and expertly capitalized on the rising anti-feminist backlash within the nation.

And since Yoon’s ascent to the presidency, gender equality has develop into a taboo matter in Korean public life. Political efforts to additional ladies’s rights hit a wall, and previous achievements got here beneath sustained assault. This can be a deeply worrying growth, as South Korea’s document on ladies’s rights, particularly in workplaces, was already a lot worse than many of the industrialized world earlier than the Yoon presidency.

South Korea is the world’s Tenth-largest economic system. It’s a tech large that’s house to Samsung and lots of different main expertise corporations. It is usually a cultural powerhouse whose many film, TV and pop stars boast giant world followings. However the nation can also be deeply patriarchal and stays a frontrunner in gender inequality. It has recorded the most important gender pay hole among the many OECD member nations each single yr for practically three a long time. It has additionally been on the backside of the Economist journal’s Glass Ceiling index for a decade.

Korean ladies are sometimes pressured to surrender their careers after childbirth and those that work outdoors the house nonetheless perform the lion’s share of family chores and childcare duties. Sexual crimes towards ladies, particularly technology-facilitated sexual violence, corresponding to the usage of spy cams to secretly movie ladies, are rampant in each private and non-private spheres.

For the reason that late 2010s, nonetheless, Korean ladies have been preventing towards their nation’s patriarchal tradition with unprecedented power. Via a neighborhood #MeToo motion, arguably essentially the most strong in all of Asia, they uncovered the sexual misconduct of many highly effective males, together with that of a presidential contender. They fought vigorously for harder punishments for spy-cam crimes. They efficiently campaigned to abolish the nation’s decades-long abortion ban. And hundreds of thousands of them vowed to stay single and childfree in a so-called “beginning strike” towards patriarchal customs and traditions, inflicting South Korea to interrupt its personal document for the world’s lowest fertility charge in 2022.

This outburst of feminist advocacy, nonetheless, triggered an offended pushback from males who thought ladies have been going too far, demanding an excessive amount of and, within the course of, harming Korean society. Feminists started to be vilified on-line as “mentally diseased” individuals following an “delinquent ideology”. The resentment was most palpable amongst younger males who noticed feminist good points as private losses and felt their place in society was being threatened (in a single latest ballot, for instance, practically 80 % of South Korean males of their 20s stated they see themselves as victims of “gender discrimination”.

Yoon’s right-wing Folks Energy Social gathering (PPP) expertly tapped into this properly of resentment. Throughout his presidential marketing campaign, Yoon stated structural sexism now not existed in South Korea. He blamed feminism for the nation’s low fertility charges, claiming feminist concepts make it “tough for women and men up to now”. He additionally vowed to introduce harder punishments for many who make false accusations of sexual assault, though such instances are extraordinarily uncommon and focusing the dialog on alleged false accusers discourages actual victims from coming ahead. His marketing campaign’s key promise to dismantle the Gender Equality Ministry – which has performed a pivotal position in tackling gender discrimination and violence lately – proved to be successful, and shored up important assist from younger, male voters.

And since Yoon took workplace final Might, assaults on South Korea’s ladies’s rights motion and the good points it made over time have unfolded with numbing regularity.

State workplaces tasked with furthering gender equality and ladies’s rights in native contexts have been swiftly rebranded as these for “household” or “youngsters” and made to focus solely on ladies’s reproductive and child-rearing roles. The time period “gender equality” was faraway from textbooks and funding for youth packages combating on a regular basis sexism was scrapped.

The president has not but managed to dismantle the Gender Equality Ministry, however his get together stays dedicated to changing it with a smaller workplace answerable for, amongst different issues, “inhabitants and household”. And the ministry’s powers and affect have already been considerably curtailed.

When the Gender Equality Ministry urged reforming South Korea’s outdated rape legislation outlined on the idea of bodily violence relatively than a scarcity of consent, for instance, the justice ministry struck down the proposal inside hours.

The gender equality minister appointed by Yoon, “Impediment to gender equality” award holder Kim Hyunsook, has additionally been working to undermine the work of her personal ministry.

Final yr, when the violent murders of two ladies – one in a subway station rest room and the opposite on a school campus – by the hands of males who stalked or raped them occupied information headlines in South Korea, Kim rejected the concept that misogyny was at play. She went so far as accountable one sufferer for not working laborious sufficient to guard herself from male predation and careworn that such incidents shouldn’t be used to fan “conflicts” between women and men.

On this context, there may be little or no to rejoice this Worldwide Girls’s Day in South Korea. Girls are offended and upset to see the federal government’s decided efforts to reverse the progress made by the feminist motion prior to now decade.

This frustration was palpable at Saturday’s rally in Seoul. Girls have been extra sombre and angrier than standard. “Let’s combat towards this period of regression!” they chanted. “Cease erasing ladies and gender equality!” they shouted as they marched down the streets, pumping their fists into the air in unison.

“It is undoubtedly a really tough time for us,” Lee Hyo-rin, an activist with the nonprofit Korea Cyber ​​Sexual Violence Response Heart, informed me. “The one method we are able to survive these tough occasions is thru extra solidarity and by connecting with one another.”

Lee stated the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions on social gatherings it necessitated made it tough for South Korean ladies to withstand the anti-feminist backlash within the nation.

“However now we’re prepared to satisfy one another once more,” she stated at Saturday’s rally – the primary main gathering of feminists for the reason that pandemic started in 2020. “We’ll journey out the backlash. We’ll be stronger once we’re linked.”

The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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