Park Geun-hye


Photo via US State Department's Michael Gross.

Photo via US State Department’s Michael Gross.

On 19 December 2012 Park Geun-hye won the tightly fought election that would make her in February 2013 the first female president for South Korea, which ranked 115th in the 2009 World Economic Forum’s Gender Equality Index. In 2005, the country had seen the appointment of its first female prime minister, Han Myeong-Sook (b 1944), a former Minister of Gender Equality (2001-2003), a long time progressive politician, and graduate of Ewha Woman’s University. Park in contrast represented the ruling conservative New Frontier party and had no history of feminist politics. Like many other ‘firsts’, Park, who trained as an engineer and was first elected to the National Assembly in 1998, is a member of a political dynasty, the daughter of former dictator, general, and President Park Chung-hee (1961-79).  Her father, who was assassinated (as was her mother), remains a divisive figure in South Korea, remembered both for uneven regional industrial development and for jailing opponents. Nick-named ‘the ice queen’, a moniker that implies qualities like Margaret Thatcher’s ‘the iron lady’, Park has never been known as a feminist. She nevertheless promised a ‘women’s revolution’, including child care. To distance herself from the influential business interests closely associated with the ruling party and the country’s massive gap between rich and poor, Park presented herself as a maternal figure that recalled something of the appeal of her contemporary, the German chancellor Angela Merkel and of Elizabeth the First, Britain’s ‘virgin queen’ whom Park cites as a model. Her claim that “I have no family to take care of and no children to pass wealth to. You, the people, are my family and your happiness is the reason that I stay in politics” was powerful in a nation where kinship is prized (McElroy). As the Executive Director of the Center for Korean Women and Politics (CKWP) observed, however, Park was a female leader “only in biological terms” and lacked any history of promoting equality ( The CKWP and the Women’s News rated Park’s liberal opponent better on women’s rights. Unmarried and childless, Park appeared a surprising choice in a nation characterized by Confucian beliefs and substantial gender gaps in most aspects of its economic, social, and political life. Indeed the vast majority of feminists supported the opposition and there are suspicions that Park’s candidacy was a ploy by the old guard to stay in power. Her gender allowed them to bask in the appearance of change while drawing on the pervasive, among conservatives and older voters, near-worship of her dictator father.


Further Reading & Resources

“Park Geun-Hye adds to Asian women’s rise to power,” 21 December 2012,,

“The Situation of Women in South Korea,”

Patrick Boehler, “Behind the Story: TIME’s Emily Rauhala Dicusses South Korea’s First Female President,”

Pino Cazzaniga, “Hann Myung-Sook, a Christian woman now prime minister,”  Help,,-a-Christian-woman-now-prime-minister-5965.html

Justin McCurry, “Park Geun-hye becomes South Korea’s first female president,”

Heike Hermanns, “Women in South Korean Politics: A Long Road to Equality,” Portal: Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies , v. 3, no. 2 (2006),

Michael Kugelman, ed., Edging Toward Full Empowerment? South Korean Women in the Workplace and the Political Arena, Asian Program. Special Report. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. September 2006.

Damien McElroy, “Park Geun-hye becomes South Korea’s first female president,” The Telegraph, Mette, “Park Geun-hye: South Korea’s First Female President Carries a Complicated Legacy,” policymic,

From the Front Lines: A Young Woman in Politics by Erin Rennie

by Erin Rennie

BC Legislature via Flickr user mohit_k.

BC Legislature via Flickr user mohit_k.

I feel very lucky to be a woman in Canadian politics in 2012. I’ve studied my history and I know how hard women have worked for decades to achieve the political equality I enjoy today. Personhood, the right to vote, the right to attend university, the social acceptance of my choice to have a career, the guarantee of equal pay, and the freedom to speak freely at the boardroom table or at the kitchen table – these are things I am able to take for granted because of the women who fought relentlessly to guarantee them for girls of my generation.

But I don’t take these rights for granted. I take my political rights very seriously. And I think rights always come with accompanying responsibilities. I’ve chosen a career in politics not just out of a love for the thrill of the political world, but also out of a sense of duty. Politics are how I serve my community. Since Grade 8 student government, the political realm has been where my talents and my passions have fused. Unlike women of the past and women in other parts of the world I am able to exercise not only my rights, but my calling as well.

Which isn’t to say it’s all perfect. With just 24.7% of Parliamentary seats held by female MPs, Canada ranks 27th in the world when it comes to female representation in national parliaments, right above Sudan. As a political aide for the past four years, I have had many more male colleagues than female colleagues. And it wasn’t much better at university: in the UBC Debate Society I was often one of a handful of girls at a tournament full of guys. In 2008 I was the only female candidate out of five to run for President of the student body. My experiences often leave me wondering what was holding the other girls back. My generation has been raised with every right, opportunity, and encouragement that our male counterparts have had. Women are out-performing their male classmates in universities across the country. So why are we still seeing a gender gap at the top?

I think that there are many complicated reasons. Women face different challenges than men when it comes to entering the political world. Women continue to shoulder the bulk of the household chores and child-rearing responsibilities. Female politicians are portrayed more negatively by the media. Female politicians are even “heard” differently by voters who have been conditioned to expect their political leaders to be white, male, middle-aged, and WASPY. The political waters are still fraught with sexist sharks.

But I think women themselves also have something to do with the gender gap. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, says that there is an “ambition gap” at the bottom contributing to the gender gap at the top. Women, she argues, plan a way out of the “corporate ladder” long before they need to. Young women are more likely to choose a flexible, middle management career path in preparation for the children they may not even have yet. They “check out before they check out.” Effectively, women are self-sabotaging.

I think confidence is key to helping fill this ambition gap. It isn’t enough for girls to have the right to be walking through the halls of power, girls need to want it and believe they can have it.

As a political aide strategic communications are my bread and butter. I am constantly listening and analysing what people say and write and what I’ve noticed is that men are far better at articulating what they want. And unsurprisingly, they are better at getting what they want. The women in my life are the opposite. They hum and haw over decisions. They don’t express their preferences. They defer decisions to others. They think this is what it means to be likeable and feminine. Heck, I’m guilty of this too.

I believe that until women stop communicating this way we will never see equality in our political chambers. I challenge the women of Canada to stop self-sabotaging and lying to themselves about what they really want. Express your preferences. Tell us that you WANT to lead and why. Make the decisions you now have the right to make. Be as ambitious and demanding as you can be. Like everything else, if men can do it, we can too.

Diane M. Kelly

Map of the Area for the October 1873 Treaty via Natural Resources Canada.

Map of the Area for the October 1873 Treaty via Natural Resources Canada.

Diane M. Kelly of the Ojibway Onigaming First Nation was the first woman ever elected Grand Chief of the Grand Council of Treaty #3, which encompasses parts of northwestern Ontario and eastern Manitoba. She served in the capacity of Grand Chief from 2008 to 2012. Kelly was also the first Anishinaabe woman from Treaty #3 to become a lawyer. She was called to the Manitoba Bar in 1995 and the Ontario Bar in 1998.

In 2012, Kelly ran for the position of national chief in the Assembly of First Nations leadership race. As she explained, “I’m running because I think we need a really strong voice on treaties. There’s so many First Nation communities that are impacted and our treaties are our strength and we need to get that voice out there.” (source:
Kelly advanced to the second round of balloting, after receiving 39 votes on the first ballot. In the second round, she tied with longstanding leader Bill Erasmus, Dene National Chief and AFN Regional Chief for the Northwest Territories, at 34 votes. She withdrew after the second round and released her supporters to vote for their preferred candidate. In an interview after the election with the Kenora Daily Miner and News, Kelly indicated that she was surprised at the outcome.

“I felt I had heard a lot of talk about chiefs who are upset about the First Nations Crown meetings. They were upset that there wasn’t a strong treaty presence at the AFN and then when the first ballot came out, it was like, ‘wow.’ We’ve been hearing this buzz but it didn’t seem to show in the results,” she said. (via Kenora Daily Miner and News)

Further  Reading & Resources
Grand Council of Treaty #3.
Treaty Guide to Treaty #3 (1873).