MOGEF, the Punching Bag
By Joon Ha Kim Head of Society Division
Derived from deep-rooted patriarchal and archaic ideologies, the gender inequality and underrepresentation of women in South Korea is not surprising. To create a fair and just society by achieving gender equality, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF) was established in 2001. Despite this noble intention, the Korean community seems to be discontented with the lack of tangible results in providing equal opportunities to both men and women. Although MOGEF should be taking more executive and decisive actions, its abolishment will do more harm than good in achieving gender equality.
Among the many gender inequality issues Korea faces, the gender wage gap seems to be the most long-lasting and salient. Korea has the largest pay gap among the OECD countries, recorded at 37.1% as of last year. It is true that the difference is partially due to the maternal responsibilities that women tend to take on in the middle of their professional careers; however, even only considering single, female college graduates, the wage gap is 10%. This suggests that this inequality is not created by maternal leave, but by an inherent structural repression. Women occupy a meager 10% of executive positions, demonstrating the glass ceiling preventing women from moving up the ladder.
To target this issue, MOGEF has strongly advocated for the “gender-sensitive policy”, which aims to modify pre-existing business-made employment policies to reflect the different experiences men and women have in society. This policy primarily relies on the gender impact analysis that scrutinizes policies to check if there are unintended advantages given to certain groups. Such tools helped MOGEF establish and enforce legal grounds to assure equal representation of men and women in public and private sectors. For instance, in 2014, MOGEF enforced the law that prevents employment of more than 60% of a specific gender in the membership of a government committee, causing a 15.5% increase in women’s participation in government committees. MOGEF has also been focusing on education to reduce gender discrimination in academia and industry. MOGEF’s efforts enhance women’s status in markets, as it caused an increase of 5.6% of women in executive positions in public offices from 2012 to 2017. Although it may be a minute increase, MOGEF does provide a possible, albeit slow, solution, and its abolition would not ameliorate the situation.
In addition to addressing such issues in the professional field, MOGEF also aims to prevent sexual violence against women. For instance, for the recent “Nth room case”, MOGEF has decided to revise the sentencing standards for digital sex crimes, which will help in deciding the appropriate level of punishment, and to establish a digital sex crime monitoring system in cooperation with the National Police Agency. It has also promised to give psychological treatment to the victims to facilitate the recovery process. Considering the potential support MOGEF may provide to the victims of the sex scandal, it is absurd how the idea of abolition is coming up at this time, when the focus should be on helping the victims of sexual assault.
MOGEF seems to be the punching bag of society due to its negative reputation so far. The #MeToo movement in Korea brought more cynicism than awareness to the issue of gender equality, which inaccurately reflects MOGEF’s benevolent intentions. Furthermore, fake news about MOGEF banning the Korean snack, Jolly Pong, for its similarity to female genitalia circulated on social media — depicting them as a petty, good-for-nothing ministry. Although it may be true that it has passed a few questionable regulations, MOGEF deserves more support than hate. Without MOGEF, who else would help level the playing field for women?
Much Needed Change
By Hanhee Jang Staff Reporter
The MOGEF has been a topic of controversy for the last two decades. Scandal arose from its ministers’ inappropriate remarks, questionable usage of budget, outrageous policies, and more. It’s no wonder that the abolishment of MOGEF has been suggested by more than one candidate in this election, having already been suggested by former presidential candidate Seong-min Yoo in 2017. The ministry’s goals are gender equality and support for family stability in relation to teenagers, multicultural families, and single parent families. While the goals themselves are commendable and Korean society definitely needs to address these issues, the ministry’s competence and structural compatibility with other ministries are being questioned.
MOGEF started out as a small department that originally monitored gender inequality in the policies of other government departments, but has been constantly evolving over the course of different regimes, gaining and losing jurisdiction over household issues. This is associated with one of the main criticisms they face: inherent structural ambiguity in the ministry’s jurisdiction and independence. Although not evident from its English name, its Korean counterpart means “ministry of women and family”, which connotes a somewhat different area to simply issues of gender equality. The task of policy-making related to women and family is so large that it’s hard for MOGEF to work independently without other departments. For example, the “family” part of MOGEF is largely similar to the works of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, and MOGEF has also been criticized multiple times for its arrogation over the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
Other than structural inability to achieve independence, it has been suggested that MOGEF is not completely sincere in its motivations. Whereas MOGEF has tried multiple times to restrict and impose guidelines on cultural issues such as K-pop and games as supposed causes of household instability, it has shown unenthusiastic responses toward issues more relevant to its original purpose. In the infamous Miryang gang rape incident in 2004, MOGEF failed to show timeliness and initiative in protecting the victims.
The main criticism against the abolishment of MOGEF is the need to address the ever more important issue of gender equality and protection of women’s rights. Especially in Korea, where the perception of such issues is polarized and creates conflict, more attentive work is essential to create a stable society. However, the mere existence of MOGEF will not guarantee an improvement. For the past 20 years, the ministry has been the center of many controversies rather than being a moderator of conflicts. The solution may be surprisingly simple: return the jurisdiction held by MOGEF to other relevant departments and strengthen them separately. This way, the bureaucratic complications at the core of MOGEF’s structural weakness, would be resolved.
It would be unfair to say that the abolishment of MOGEF is based on outdated ideologies and patriarchy that is inherent in South Korean society. The logic central to this claim is not governed by ideology and conflict between genders, but rather by the logic of efficiency required from a bureaucratic organization affecting our rights. The issues under the spotlight of the South Korean public such as the “Nth rooms” case highlights the need to increase gender sensitivity within Korea, but that does not equate to the need to maintain MOGEF.