Writer: Kathryn Botto, Carnegie Endowment
Kang Kyung-wha stated goodbye to her position as South Korea’s international minister in February as Chung Eui-yong assumed the put up. Kang leaves behind a legacy of achievements in a very thorny interval in South Korean diplomatic historical past. Not least of all, Kang’s position as the primary girl to function international minister within the nation marks a interval of progress for South Korean ladies in public service.
Her appointment in 2017 was not the primary time Kang had damaged a glass ceiling. In 2005, she turned the second girl to serve on the director-level within the Ministry of International Affairs. Kang additionally reached new heights on the United Nations, the place she held key posts for over ten years. Her appointment as deputy excessive commissioner for the UN Human Rights Workplace in 2006 marked the primary time a South Korean girl held such a high-level position on the United Nations.
Kang’s background set her aside from the ‘outdated boys membership’ of South Korean diplomacy in one other method — she was additionally the primary international minister to by no means take the international service examination, a notable anomaly in a subject the place extremely aggressive exams are usually the gatekeeper to public service positions. Her background in multilateral diplomacy can also be unconventional, as most of her predecessors — and her successor — have had extra North Korea or US-centric experience.
Standard or not, Kang’s experience made her the best particular person to be on the helm of South Korean diplomacy in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when a few of the world’s best powers are wanting inward and shunning cooperation, South Korea stands out as an engaged world accomplice and chief. Kang’s management in positioning South Korea as a accountable worldwide stakeholder throughout this disaster will show to be one among her most defining achievements as international minister.
Regardless of her apparent ability and successes, Kang’s non-traditional background generally drew unfavourable consideration, particularly amid suspicions that the international ministry was bypassed in necessary negotiations and selections. However Kang’s atypical path might also be one cause she was ready obtain a lot success — within the United Nations, the place there may be better gender parity, Kang doubtless confronted an surroundings the place ladies’s contributions had been rewarded extra often.
Conventional paths to management have definitely not served South Korean ladies nicely up to now, and that’s not for a scarcity of ladies in public service. By 2003, South Korea was simply assembly its mandate that 30 per cent of latest hires in all authorities departments be ladies, a lot in order that it revised the mandate to use the quota to males as nicely. And in 2018, ladies made up 50 per cent of civil servants for the primary time.
Nonetheless, South Korean ladies occupy few public management positions, significantly in diplomacy — feminine ambassadors constantly quantity within the single digits, and as lately as 2014 there have been no feminine ambassadors.
The Moon Jae-in administration set out with aspirations to handle gender equality and parity. Kang was one among 4 ladies appointed to Moon’s cupboard, the very best variety of ladies to ever serve in cabinet-level positions concurrently. Moon additionally appointed Pi Woo-jin to be the primary feminine Minister of Patriots and Veteran Affairs, one among six non-cabinet minister positions.
Although this was a historic milestone, it fell wanting Moon’s said purpose to nominate a cupboard of no less than 30 per cent ladies. 4 years into his five-year time period, Moon has but to succeed in that threshold, and the variety of ladies in his administration has decreased. With Kang’s departure, simply three cupboard positions are presently held by ladies, making it simply 16 per cent feminine.
Regardless of Moon’s current lack of concern for gender parity in his cupboard, different features for ladies in South Korea can’t be discounted. Along with the primary feminine international minister, Moon additionally appointed the primary ladies to guide three different ministries — Commerce, Labor and Employment; Land, Infrastructure and Transport; and Patriots and Veterans Affairs. South Korean ladies additionally made main strides in electoral politics. The 2018 Nationwide Meeting election noticed a document 57 ladies elected to parliament, accounting for 19 per cent of the 300 whole seats. The poll additionally included a feminist get together, the Girls’s Celebration, for the primary time.
Nonetheless, these kinds of features don’t at all times stick, and a better variety of ladies in management positions doesn’t essentially equate to extra energy for ladies. Although ladies make up a better share of public servants than 20 years in the past, South Korea — like most international locations — has a protracted strategy to go earlier than ladies in authorities management turns into the norm relatively than the exception. Kang’s service as international minister brings South Korea a step nearer to attaining that actuality.
Kathryn Botto is a Senior Analysis Analyst within the Asia Program on the Carnegie Endowment for Worldwide Peace.