If all goes according to plan tomorrow for Park Guen-hye, she’ll have secured the presidency of South Korea before the day is out. At present, Park is favored over her opponent Moon Jae-in. Though the margin is very slim indeed, it’s very likely that Park will take tomorrow’s election and become South Korea’s first female president.
Though she may very well be elected tomorrow, Park’s campaign has not exactly been a cake walk. The fact that her father, Park Chung-hee, was a military dictator in South Korea from 1961-1979 has made her a tricky sell to some voters.
Opinions in South Korea are mixed when it comes to the merit of Park Chung-hee’s leadership and whether his daughter should be implicated in his actions. Park Guen-hye has distanced herself from her father politically, and her relation to him certainly hasn’t squelched her supporters’ enthusiasm.
What does seem to be dragging Park down a bit is a likability problem among both men and women. Park is being compared not only to her dictator father, but also to her mother—a very popular first lady in her time. Park herself has never married or had children, which prompted a spokesperson of Moon’s to quip that she “has no femininity”.
Although it’s obviously problematic to align femininity with marriage and kids, Park’s detractors have latched onto this criticism with gusto. It doesn’t help the candidate’s case that her gender equality policies are more than a little bit fuzzy. Park claims to be interested in addressing women’s rights, but beyond becoming the first female president, it’s difficult to discern what she means, exactly. Some are arguing that Moon is actually a better candidate for South Korea’s women than Park—and they may be right.
Park and Kim Jong Il
Regardless of whether Park or Moon is elected tomorrow, South Korea’s gender equality issues need to be addressed. While a woman may be the frontrunner for the presidency, South Korea still ranks pretty poorly when it comes to women’s rights. Only 10% of South Korea’s parliament seats are held by women, and only 50% of women work at all. Whoever is elected tomorrow, let’s hope that they usher in some good, meaningful legislation where the ladies of South Korea are concerned.