NGOs in Korea - (8); KWAU Tries to Expand Women's Role in Politics

Article excerpt

Most women's groups thought their efforts had paid off when both ruling and opposition parties pledged to field more female candidates for the April 13 parliamentary elections. But they were mistaken.

Since early 1995, women's organizations in Korea have called for legislation requiring that political parties allocate a minimum 30 percent of the national constituency candidacies to women.

The law was finally introduced in early February and both ruling and opposition parties promised that they will stick to the new law.

However, only the ruling Millennium Democratic Party kept its promise, nominating 14 women, just slightly more than 30 percent of 43 candidates, as proportional representation lawmakers, while the main opposition Grand National Party (GNP) nominated 10 women, 22.2 percent of the national constituency candidates they registered with the National Election Commission.

But the number of women actually elected as lawmakers through proportional representation in the April 13 election was five for the ruling MDP and the opposition GNP, respectively.

``The election laws were revised to introduce a minimum quota for women candidates because female lawmakers accounted for just 4 percent of 299 legislators in the current 15th-term National Assembly. This figure is incredibly small, compared with the 13.1 percent on average around the world,'' according to a statement issued by an alliance of women's groups.

``We have applied for a court injunction to nullify the nominations, and will continue our movement to promote the expansion of women's participation in politics, based on the revised law,'' Lee Kyung-sook, co-representative of the Korea Women's Associations United (KWAU), told The Korea Times.

In the 1970s, female workers were exploited with low wages. Women's movement began to emerge in the 1980s to change the deep-rooted male dominance in all sectors. The political circle was no exception.

The women's organizations faced tremendous difficulty since sexual discrimination and authoritarian values were prevalent at that time.

Against this backdrop, Korea Women's Associations United was launched on Feb 18. 1987, with 21 women's groups coming together.

``The KWAU was formed to help revive the women's movement in Korea. Its aim is to build an discrimination-free society where women can enjoy equal rights and individual's political, economic and socio-cultural rights are fully guaranteed,'' Lee said.

Ever since, the KWAU has been striving in alliance with other civic organizations to have the National Assembly enact or revise women-related laws.

``We have mainly engaged in complicated issues concerning women's affairs-- things that are difficult to achieve individually and require a united action,'' said Lee.

One of the biggest women's group in Korea, the KWAU has clearly made some astonishing changes. It successfully campaigned for the revision of both the Family Law and Equal Employment Act in 1989, which enabled women to receive equal payment for equal work. …