August 16, 2023
SEOUL – The fate of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family appears uncertain, as it faces a state probe into its management of the World Scout Jamboree event, which concluded last week amid significant issues.
The investigation could hold the ministry responsible for the inadequate preparation for the event, in which some participants left the campsite early, before an approaching typhoon cleared it entirely.
The ministry’s exposure to the debacle has already led to a revival in calls for its disbandment, which was one of President Yoon Suk Yeol’s most high-profile election pledges.
The Saemangeum Jamboree, which has been embroiled in controversy since the start of the event due to severe heat, hygiene issues and lack of preparation, naturally led to the question of what related authorities had done in the six-year preparation period.
The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which is in charge of youth-related policies and whose minister co-chairs the Jamboree Organizing Committee, has borne much of the criticism.
“The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which has proven overwhelming incompetence, does not deserve to be operated by national taxes,” said Rep. Her Eun-a of the ruling People Power Party via Facebook. “This Jamboree event has only revealed the legitimacy of (its abolition),” Hur added.
Former Democratic Party member Choi Jae-sung, however, said the ruling party bringing up the abolition of the ministry now “contradicts its own logic,” because from Yoon’s point of view the ministry has done nothing wrong.
“Dismissing the minister could be seen as acknowledging that this government is responsible, so they are refraining from doing so,” he said in a recent radio interview.
“Disbanding the ministry is an issue that takes a significant time, and there is no reason to expedite it through the dismissal of the minister.”
Remarks by Gender Equality Minister Kim Hyun-sook have aggravated the situation.
Rep. Lee Won-taeg of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea expressed concern about the preparation of the Jamboree during a parliamentary audit on Oct. 25 last year. When Lee asked whether the Jamboree preparation process was on track, Kim answered, “Of course, we are to prepare (the event) without a hitch.”
In response to criticism following the start of the event, Minister Kim was berated again for saying that the hardships that the Saemangeum Jamboree had confronted were the “opportunity to show Korea’s ability to cope with crisis,” in a briefing on Aug. 8.
“Minister Kim Hyun-sook feels a heavy responsibility as the Jamboree Organizing Committee chair and the Ministry cannot agree with the criticism that she lacks a sense of responsibility,” the Gender Equality Ministry’s spokesperson said in a briefing on Tuesday, but questions over the value of the ministry have resurfaced.
The ministry has gone through several rough patches since its launch in 2001, undergoing reorganization and reshuffles under each new administration, with its name changed three times.
The original form of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family was the Gender Equality Ministry, launched in 2001 by the Kim Dae-jung government, which pledged to establish a new government organization focusing on the women’s rights.
Since its inception, the ministry has taken over tasks from other ministries, such as women’s housing policy, dealing with domestic violence, support for sexual violence victims and some prostitution prevention activities.
In 2005, under the Roh Moo-hyun government, the task of looking after family affairs was transferred to the ministry from the Health Ministry.
The Lee Myung-bak government that followed wanted to abolish the ministry, along with four others, as part of plans to slim down government. Along with the Unification Ministry, it was one of two ministries that survived, but it was forced to give back its “family” task to the Health Ministry. It regained the role in 2010, and was further expanded.
The ministry came under threat again when then-presidential candidate Yoon Suk Yeol pledged to abolish the Gender Equality Ministry on the campaign trail last year.
Aligning with the sharp gender conflict at the time, the pledge drew favorable responses from men in their 20s and 30s.
After Yoon took office, the ruling People Power Party proposed a revision to the Government Organization Act in October last year, mainly concerned with abolishing the Gender Equality Ministry.
The functions of the ministry are to be transferred to other relevant ministries, with the new “Population and Family Gender Equality Headquarters” to be established under the Health Ministry, according to the blueprint of the ruling party.
But the bill is in limbo due to opposition from the Democratic Party of Korea, which holds a majority of seats in the National Assembly.
The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family is refraining from officially responding to questions regarding the global Scouting event, focusing on preparing the audit for the Board of Audit and Inspection to begin as early as this week, and for the National Assembly’s Gender Equality and Family Committee questioning scheduled for Aug. 25. As of Tuesday, the ministry has reportedly received more than 200 requests to submit data and information from lawmakers’ offices.