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Nominee says gender equality ministry should be abolished

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Gender Equality and Family Minister nominee Kim Hyun-sook attends a confirmation hearing at the National Assembly in Seoul, Wednesday. Joint Press Corp
Gender Equality and Family Minister nominee Kim Hyun-sook attends a confirmation hearing at the National Assembly in Seoul, Wednesday. Joint Press Corp

By Lee Hae-rin

Gender Equality and Family Minister nominee Kim Hyun-sook drew criticism at her confirmation hearing at the National Assembly for refusing to submit documentation requested by members of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK).

She poured fuel onto the fire for her remarks that the ministry itself is partially responsible for its fate to be abolished.

Kim said the ministry, which was established in 2001, had failed to respond properly to cases of sex crimes committed by people in positions of power.

"Now is the time for the ministry to seek a transformation in response to a new environment. It needs to be born again as an effective ministry that can cope with the gender conflict between men and women," she said.

With the remarks, Kim tried to curry favor with President Yoon Suk-yeol who has been pushing for the abolishment of the ministry.

Rep. Kwon In-sook of the DPK criticized Kim, saying she is an inappropriate candidate to lead the ministry.

"Rep. Kweon Seong-dong of the People Power Party (PPP) submitted a bill to abolish the gender equality ministry and here we have a nominee who agrees to the abolishment of the ministry," said Kwon. "This is simply nonsensical."

The DPK has been opposing the closure of the ministry.

Meanwhile, the ruling PPP justified the abolishment of the ministry.

"The (current) gender equality ministry abandoned its duties when faced with complaints from the victims of sex crimes committed by people in power and even called the victims 'self-claimed victims,'" PPP Rep. Kim Jung-jae said.

The nominee's incomplete submission of documentation also sparked an intense debate.

PPP lawmaker Kim Mi-ae said that the nominee was requested to submit over 1,430 materials, which is far more than the amount previous nominees were required to provide, which were 73.3 and 75.8 percent of that amount for each of the preceding two ministers.

In response, Kwon at the DPK argued that the number is due to redundant requests of the same data and said only 45.5 percent of 110 requested documents had been turned in. Other DPK members went on to reprimand the nominee for not submitting documents to prove how she increased her property, drunk-driving records, information on her children's military service evasion and academic fraud.

Moreover, Kwon said the nominee gave different answers about her academic background and opinions on the abolishment of the ministry depending on which party she submitted them to.

The committee members from both parties agreed that they have insufficient information to proceed with proper questioning and its head, Song Ok-joo, declared the adjournment of the hearing, requesting the nominee to submit documents before the session resumes at 1:30 p.m.

Kim's confirmation hearing was originally scheduled to be held on May 6, but was postponed due to the incomplete submission of requested data.

The nominee did not clarify her position on whether there is structural discrimination based on gender in the country. "I am aware that Korea ranks low in the global gender gap index," she said, "and I question why there has been no progress, despite having the gender equality ministry for the past 20 years."

Kim said the ministry's abolishment does not mean an end to policies and progress on women's rights and argued that the PPP's revised bill on government reorganization distributes the ministry's roles to the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Interior and Safety, and Ministry of Employment and Labor. DPK lawmakers condemned the legislation for eliminating a control tower that manages gender equality policies.

Meanwhile, a coalition of 567 women's rights groups urged the government to keep and reinforce the gender equality ministry at a press conference at the National Assembly, Wednesday.

The group said progress in women's rights has been possible because of the ministry and called upon the Yoon administration to take affirmative action in addressing and removing gender inequalities.

Lee Hae-rin

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