Odd path to equality
Published February 17th 2004 in Korea Herald

A very novel idea has been presented by the National Assembly's Special Political Reform Committee which has proposed establishing 26 additional constituencies where only women will run for legislative seats. Aware of the criticism about reverse discrimination in view of the Constitutional guarantee of gender equality, the inter-party panel suggested that the new system only be implemented for the next two parliamentary elections.

The committee's intention to increase female representation in the legislature is praiseworthy in view of their extremely low ratio in the current Assembly, with just 16 women against 257 men. But, even if the proposal is adopted, the overall number of male Assemblymen will not be immediately affected as the 26 seats will be added to the present membership of 273, increasing the total to 299.

And there is also the possibility that women's representation in ordinary constituencies may be reduced because the electorate could give less consideration to women candidates in their districts, now that they have a separate ballot for additional larger constituencies with exclusively women candidates. In the proposed election system, each voter would be given three tickets, one for the ordinary district, another for the women only district and the third for the parties.

Overall, the proposed system looks too artificial as a means to increase the number of women lawmakers. It would be better to fill half of each party's candidates under the proportional representation system with women. And it should be left to individual voters to decide whether to choose a man or a woman to represent them, without forcing them to pick a woman from a separate list.

Women's role in our society has grown remarkably over the years, although the speed of its advance may still not be satisfactory to many women's rights advocates. But the fact is that the female proportion is increasing rather rapidly in recruitment to the civil and legal services, teaching positions and even to military and police academies.

What is important in order to ensure gender equality in our democratic society is to find and correct, through legislative efforts, any prejudiced and discriminatory practices against women in domestic, social and national life. Establishing women's only constituencies is not the right policy to remove gender discrimination from Korean politics.