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Female, conservative, unmarried with no children, 60-year-old Park Geun-Hye, the new president-elect of South Korea, has a profile filled with firsts. Elected as the first female president of South Korea, with 51.6 percent of the popular vote, she is a woman who has stated that she is married to her country and pledged to think only about the Korean people’s future happiness.
As the daughter of a militaristic ruler, the legacy of her father, Park Chung Hee, appeared to have more of an influence over voters than the gender of the candidates. Park Geun-Hye, the 18th president of the 15th largest GDP in the world cannot create the regime that her father is remembered for, but is she a leader who can reconcile the inequalities that have arisen from the past?
Policies for Democracy
The rapid rate of development in Korea has left many behind and created a division between those who “have” and those who “have much more,” which the world saw mocked in Psy’s "Gangnam Style." Park Guen-Hye does not plan to take up major reform against the corporate conglomerates such as Samsung and Hyundai that dominate the Korean economy in contrast to her opponent, Moon Jae In. Her policy towards North Korea will be a more gradual transition towards dialogue regarding reconciliation.
Good news for the United States, though: she plans to continue the open trade pact with the United States that has allowed the Korean market to be flooded with Doritos and Chevrolets.
What does this mean for women?
Park Geun-Hye has promised to create policies that decrease the increasing wealth gap in South Korea, but what will the formerly nicknamed “Ice Princess” do to narrow the gender gap in Korea? According to the 2012 Global Gender Gap report issued by the World Economic Forum, Korea ranked 108 of 135 countries that annually record the gender disparities. China, 69, and Japan, 101, were listed as more equitable than their South Korean neighbor. With only 14 percent representation of women in Parliament and women still receiving 39 percent less pay than their male counterparts, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Korea still has a way to go before reaching gender equality.
Park Geun-hye has promoted mildly progressive welfare policies, in contrast to her opponent Moon Jae in, to expand afterschool care services, but her “first female” title has left gender equality off the agenda.
Among young Koreans, a new buzz word has become popular, yeo poong, “woman’s wind,” which means that women are rising as a gentle power in Korea to bring about change. Park's victory beckons women to challenge conventional expectations and indicates that Korea is ready for women to take over the country's most important posts; however, her female friendly policies to enable such momentum to continue remain to be seen.