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Anti-sex crime activist-turned-politician named in BBC 100 Women 2022 list

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Former co-leader of the Democratic Party of Korea, Park Ji-hyun, center, is seen with other women named in this year's BBC 100 Women list of influential and inspiring women. Screenshot from BBC website
Former co-leader of the Democratic Party of Korea, Park Ji-hyun, center, is seen with other women named in this year's BBC 100 Women list of influential and inspiring women. Screenshot from BBC website

By Lee Hae-rin

Park Ji-hyun, the former co-leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), was named in year's BBC 100 Women list of influential and inspiring women around the world, Tuesday, for her work tackling digital sex crimes and bringing gender equality into Korean politics.

Naming the 26-year-old as a "political reformer," BBC reported that, "As a university student, Park Ji-hyun anonymously helped bust one of South Korea's biggest online sex-crime rings, known as the Nth Room. This year she went public with her experience and went into politics, reaching out to young female voters."

BBC added that Park was nominated as the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK)'s interim co-chair after the party lost the presidential race, but she resigned after the party faced further losses. "While she may not have an official role at the moment, she is still committed to pushing for gender equality in politics," BBC said.

In this photo taken on May 30, Park Ji-hyun, right, speaks in support of DPK presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung during a press conference in Incheon. Korea Times photo by Oh Dae-geun
In this photo taken on May 30, Park Ji-hyun, right, speaks in support of DPK presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung during a press conference in Incheon. Korea Times photo by Oh Dae-geun

BBC's choice of the words, "political reformer," to describe her gave her "many thoughts," Park told The Korea Times.
Her political career lasted less than a year, as the former activist dove into Korean national politics in March. Despite the brevity, her 82 days as the DPK's co-leader were enough to witness the "bare face of Korean politics," which only strengthened her will to keep working as an agent of change, she said.

In Park's words, Korea's politics today is a "bad politics," that has drifted far from its primary objective of making society a better place for all, originating from the hatred of each of the two major parties ― the ruling and opposition parties ― of each other.

"Politicians are supposed to serve the people, but many are selfish and do politics only for themselves, just for the sake of politics itself," Park said, explaining that the country's politicians should give up their vested interests and reform their attitudes as the nation's public servants.

Since stepping down from her post in June, Park has remained as a regular party member with no specific title. She has been lecturing on youth and fandom politics for young voters at universities while undertaking studies in politics at Vanzeon School, an independent politics institute led by professors and activists. From next semester, she will begin her studies at Ewha Womans University's Graduate School of Policy Science.

Park explained that her short yet intense career in the field in Yeouido made her realize her "theoretical shortcomings." As someone who plans to keep practicing politics, she wants to build up both her experience and knowledge.

Park is looked upon domestically relatively harsher than in the foreign media, where, for example she was named to the TIME100 Next 2022 in September as one of Time Magazine's 100 emerging leaders who are shaping the future. Several Korean news media outlets reported that she failed at youth reform in politics while some commented online that they can no longer trust the BBC because it named her an inspiring and influential figure. Park believes she receives such criticism for being "too different" from those who normally practice politics in Korea. .

"A friend of mine told me over the phone yesterday what her mother said to her about me," Park said. Her friend's mother said that nobody likes to hear righteous advice from a novice (in Korea), and that's why Park gets more criticism than she deserves.

Park said that she stands on the opposite side of the demographic spectrum from the country's political establishment. "Not a 586 Generation politician (a politician in his or her 50s who was a student activist in the 1980s and born in the 1960s) but a woman in her twenties. Not a SKY graduate (referring to the three most prestigious Korean universities including Seoul National, Korea and Yonsei Universities) but someone from a lesser known small regional university. I am not the kind of (political) speaker people are used to, so no matter what I do or say, I understand that people have prejudices against me," she said.

Park Ji-hyun declares her candidacy for DPK party leader, despite having been disqualified due to being a party member for less than six months, at the National Assembly in Seoul, July 15. Korea Times photo by Oh Dae-geun
Park Ji-hyun declares her candidacy for DPK party leader, despite having been disqualified due to being a party member for less than six months, at the National Assembly in Seoul, July 15. Korea Times photo by Oh Dae-geun

Park's latest project has been to write a book ― a combination of essays, memoirs and reports on her political journey. The book, which will soon go to print and be published on Dec. 26, tells the story of how she entered politics and talks about the world Park wants to live in as a politician.

The driving forces behind her are the encouragement of people around her and the hope for a better and younger political environment. "I want more people to see me and think, 'If she (Park) could (do politics), I could too,'" Park said, expressing her hope of seeing more young people involved in politics.

This year is the third time that Korean women ― Park and Mie Kyung (Miky) Lee, producer of music festival KCON ― have been named in the BBC 100 Women list.

Previously, Jeong Eun-kyeong, the former commissioner of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), who led Korea's earlier response to the COVID-19 pandemic, was named to the list in 2020, dubbed the "virus hunter." In 2019, forensic psychology professor Lee Soo-jung of Kyonggi University was included on the list for helping to introduce Korea's anti-stalking bill.


Lee Hae-rin lhr@koreatimes.co.kr


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