Potential Female Leadership in South Korea

As a region Asia and the Asia Pacific are not without a history of women occupying political positions, with three countries currently being governed by female leaders.

he concept of political family dynasties is also not unusual. Both Sukarnoputri and Aung San Suu Kyi demonstrate the importance of political legacy in Asia. However, statistics show that despite a few prominent contradictions women remain woefully underrepresented in politics; both internationally and particularly in Asia. South Korea, despite being cited by the UN as a role model for women’s rights development, politically represents itself with just 41 out of 299 government seats being occupied by women – just 13.7% (statistics from capwip.org).

Even today, when women worldwide are increasingly involved in headline activism and politics, the idea of a female president in South Korea still comes as a surprise. The candidate herself is notably less startling. Ms Park Guen-Hye, who carries a reputation for being highly conservative, is carrying on a political legacy that began with her father, who held the reins of power in South Korea following a 1961 coup until his assassination in 1979.  Should South Korea elect its first female leader, does Ms. Guen-Hye herself have the potential to lead the country’s development?

[quote align=”center” color=”#d24431″]There is one unassailable issue for any future President of South Korea to grapple with; relations with North Korea. Guen-Hye, a seasoned political professional, centres much of her dialogue around the idea of building a responsible discourse based on confidence with the North. This is an easy statement to make, but significantly harder to implement, especially given the instability and posturing incumbent with the recent ascension of Kim Jong-un to North Korea’s seat of power.[/quote]

If recent news coming from the country is accurate, Jong-Un seemingly still feels he has much to prove with the deposition and replacement of his army chief Ri Yong Ho. Disappointingly, Guen-Hye’s  gender may prove to be a stumbling block to this optimistic plan of building discourse. Given the posturing often seen from the North, signs of weakness in its leadership are stringently avoided. Any form of negotiation with a female President may be too much of a perceived risk for Kim Jong-un, who could feel he is jeopardising his autocratic position maintained by an illusion of complete strength and power.

On the other hand Ms Guen-Hye does have a history of discourse with the country which may work in her favour, having previously accepted an invitation to visit North Korea in 2002.  Furthermore, Kim Jong-Un’s reign in the North is still in its infancy,  and we cannot fully comprehend yet what kind of relationship they intend to pursue with their neighbours.

Domestically Guen-Hye has expressed a wish to promote equality for all; both in politics and day to day life, a significant statement in a country where only just over 50% of women are in employment. It seems reasonable to that she will enforce this should she be elected to the Presidency given her own rise to power.  One thing is for certain- in a period of changing alliances and the anxiety surrounding the risk of American decline and a continued rise of China in the region, not to mention the increasing effects of the sagging export market on the economy, she will need to be reassuring and strong in terms of both foreign and domestic policy.
With the approval ratings currently stacked heavily in her favour and an air of the Obama surrounding, it is looking very likely that Ms Guen-Hye will one day be President of South Korea, and it can only hoped that  she brings with her the ability to fulfil her promises of promoting equality in her country, and stability in its relationship with the North.

by Olivia Whitworth


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