Is South Korea ready for 'Madam President'?

Park geun hye at the centre

If Park Geun-hye wins South Korea's presidential election this month, as looks increasingly likely, she will become the first woman to hold the country's top office, challenging stereotypes in a nation that is largely run by men in blue suits.

A conservative who has 15 years experience as a top legislator and who has been dubbed "The Queen of Elections" for turning around the fortunes of her political party in a series of polls, Park says she took to politics to help save her country from the devastating Asian financial crisis of 1997-98.

Park, 60, is the daughter of South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee and has never married or had children, something her opponents have sought to highlight in a bid to cut back her lead in the polls ahead of the December 19 vote.

"Candidate Park has no femininity. She has never lived a life agonizing over childbirth, childcare, education and grocery prices," Park Kwang-on, a spokesman for her left-of-centre opponent, Moon Jae-in, said recently.

While South Korea has risen from the ashes of the 1950-53 Korean War to become the world's 14th richest nation in a generation, and large numbers of women attend its top universities, it ranks just 108th out of 135 countries in the World Economic Forum's 2012 index of gender equality.

As a whole, women earn 39 percent less than men, the largest gap in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) group of developed nations.

Just half of South Korean women with a university degree are in the workforce, in part because of policies that discriminate against mothers due to the country's seniority-based pay system.

But Park, at least according to the policies she has spelt out in her campaign, is not going to tackle these issues aggressively, or make a big difference to South Korean women, especially those who have to juggle work and children.

... contd.

Please read our terms of use before posting comments
TERMS OF USE: The views expressed in comments published on indianexpress.com are those of the comment writer's alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of The Indian Express Group or its staff. Comments are automatically posted live; however, indianexpress.com reserves the right to take it down at any time. We also reserve the right not to publish comments that are abusive, obscene, inflammatory, derogatory or defamatory.