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We Need More Women in Politics
The quota system for women is an affirmative action to realize gender equality by setting a quota for hiring and promoting women in various sectors, including politics, economy, education and employment. As an institutional device to increase women's participation in a male-centered society, it is a prerequisite to building a society in which there is no gender discrimination.
A total of 94 countries have introduced the quota system for women thus far, including 68 countries where political parties are voluntarily practicing the system. A foremost frontrunner in gender equality, Sweden requires 40 percent representation of both sexes at workplaces as well as in politics. Britain`s Labour Party and France`s Socialist Party have greatly contributed to increasing the proportion of female members of their legislatures by applying a 30 percent quota for women in party nominations for parliamentary elections.
However, women`s political participation in Korea is far behind compared to that in other segments of society. According to the gender equality index released last year by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, Korean women's political representation was 23.7 out of 100 points, which was discouragingly low compared to 89.3 in healthcare, 70.3 in education and vocational training, and 74.3 in culture.
Why is greater political participation of women important? Basically, it is because women can develop an agenda for gender equality and find solutions from women`s perspectives. For example, different solutions can be found when such prominent issues of national significance as childcare and low birthrate are approached from women`s viewpoints. For example, the issue of free childcare can be connected to the rights of children and working conditions of parents, rather than simply raising the maximum age of children eligible for support programs.
The same holds true for the nation`s low birthrate, a top priority issue. Women can take more comprehensive approaches to this issue by relating it to other pertinent problems, including child rearing leave, women`s career disruptions, flexible working hours and men`s participation in housework, instead of doling out benefits packages. The 18th National Assembly had a higher number of women lawmakers than previous legislative sessions, which led to a noticeable increase in women-related legislation.
The agenda of women is also changing significantly in line with social changes. As women`s social participation increases, the number of dual career families also rises and working parents find it difficult to combine their work with child rearing. Accordingly, support for childbirth and rearing has emerged as a major social policy issue, with prospects for unification of the two Koreas not too remote.
Therefore, women`s agenda should comprise a wide array of issues such as low fertility, child rearing, harmony of work and family, equal employment, violence against women, unification, and peace. In order for these issues to be given greater weight in a new political framework, more women of diverse professional expertise and backgrounds will have to participate in politics. Needless to say, what the Korean politics requires are women who have the ability and willpower to develop an agenda that addresses women-related issues and put it into practice through institutional and policy measures.
Some argue that the introduction of a quota system for women in politics will raise problems due to insufficient qualifications of female politicians. If they prove to be insufficiently prepared, however, their lack of opportunities to participate in politics would be the main reason. Those who have enough potential should be given the opportunity to participate in the development and promotion of women`s agenda to gain public support.
This process may well be regarded as an initial investment necessary for increasing women`s political participation. Skeptics also will not be able to shun women`s agenda in the face of popular aspirations for change and hope. At the same time, women politicians will have to make efforts to strengthen their political muscles and competitive advantages. The key to a “new politics” presently pursued by the political circles across party lines may rest in expanding women`s participation.