Whether the Ministry of Gender Equality & Family should remain in existence again surfaced as a hot button issue Friday, as opposition lawmakers criticized its work over the past year in caring for women in need.
During the annual audit of the ministry by the National Assembly’s Gender Equality and Family Committee, lawmakers of the main opposition People Power Party grilled Minister of Gender Equality and Family Chung Young-ai on whether her office was helpful in caring for women’s rights.
The very existence of the ministry has been in question in recent years, as many politicians, mainly in the opposition bloc, have argued for abolishing the ministry as its tasks overlap with other government agencies, claiming that the leftover budget from abolishing it could be used to promote other initiatives in need of additional financial support.
Some presidential candidates within the People Power Party have vowed to abolish the ministry as part of their campaign promises. The issue has also been a hot-button debate topic with the aggravation of gender conflict in South Korea.
“I believe the voice to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family has risen as the ministry has failed to properly respond to many political events in the last year,” Chung said during the audit.
For one, Chung said the ministry has been passive in protecting sexual harassment victims of late Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, as Park’s remaining family members continued to raise objections to the case and have argued that the victims are lying, as they have not provided physical evidence.
“We have to reflect on the parts that fell short of public expectations and make necessary improvements,” she added. “But policies unfolded by the ministry are still important in promoting gender equality in our country and bringing understanding and consideration for those in need.”
Rep. Kim Mi-ae of the main opposition party criticized the ministry for not being diligent in preventing sexual harassment and violence in the public sector, as witnessed by lack of its on-site inspections on institutions under question.
According to data received by Kim from the ministry, more than 1,093 cases of sexual harassment or sexual violence were reported from 2017 to early October of this year, but the ministry only conducted six on-site inspections on the institutions where the reports were filed.
Kim argued that the ministry has essentially let secondary abuse carry on without putting real preventative measures in place, resorting to only receiving compensatory measures from the agencies in question.
Also during the audit, Chung emphasized that the ministry will work to provide job opportunities for women while establishing new departments and divisions to deal with sexual abuse cases and to better assist victims.
The minister also promised to increase support for single-person households and multicultural families. Her vows hinted at the ministry playing a greater administrative role in clearing the controversy surrounding its existence and work.
By Ko Jun-tae (email@example.com