The nation is anticipating the outcome of the first female president’s promise to deliver a more equal society and the empowerment of women and other minorities.
Park Geun-hye, 60, has pledged to usher in “an era of people’s happiness,” and has included this principle in her key policy agenda. The new president has vowed to improve the quality of people’s lives as many Koreans complain of society being too competitive and obsessed with economic growth.
Boosting social spending and creating quality jobs are her major commitments to bringing together the nation, which is divided by a widening economic gap, and along ideological, regional and generational fault lines. Her government will also focus on beefing up public security to combat what she describes as the “four social evils” of sexual violence, school violence, food-related crimes and crimes that destroy families.
Of all the anticipated changes, greater empowerment of women is what many hope for from Park’s leadership in a traditionally male-dominated society. Low economic and social participation of women has been cited as one of the country’s major economic weaknesses. To improve women’s status, Park has promised to increase women’s opportunities in education and employment and, most importantly, ease the burden of child care.
Park, who has taken many leadership roles in the country’s male-dominated politics, also pledged to assign female figures to key government posts and to nurture female leaders in both the public and private sector. To break through the glass ceiling, Park plans to give preference to companies with a high proportion of women managers during state procurement biddings.
Park also plans to expand the social safety net to a greater extent than former presidents.
|Participants in a welfare project introducing jobs for senior citizens tell a fairy tale to kindergartners in Incheon. (Yonhap News)|
Park’s welfare plan is focused on selectively providing state benefits, but is tailored for all age groups with the stated aim of securing jobs and a stable income for people through all stages of life. Rather than offering welfare to all, her plan emphasizes lifting the socially underprivileged out of poverty that is often passed from generation to generation.
Despite lingering problems with feasibility and financing, Park plans to increase state benefits, particularly for senior citizens and patients with serious diseases. Stressing examples of low-income families going bankrupt because of massive medical costs, Park repeatedly said that the state should save their lives and offer them the chance to stand on their own feet.
She named Chin Young, one of her close aides, minister of health and welfare.
Stressing that the Korean economy needed a new type of growth model, Park also pledged to create an innovation-based economy, reinforce growth engines, develop science technology and establish principle-based order in the market economy. The new government plans to strengthen small and medium enterprises, or SMEs, by limiting the influence of large companies, or chaebol.
For this, Park appointed U.S.-based entrepreneur Kim Jeong-hoon as minister of future creation and science and Hyun Oh-seok, president of Korea Development Institute, as finance minister.
To beef up public security, Park stressed the need to create a society ruled by “law and order.” The new government also says it will provide greater security against increasing crimes against women and children, while seeking to enhance the protection of children’s human rights.
Park has put great emphasis on reforming the current education system to counter rising education costs that have contributed significantly to the nation’s heavy household debt.
To curb private education costs, she pledged to introduce new textbooks to enable students to study without the assistance of private lessons, saying that “textbook reform” was the first step in education reform.
Park plans to impose a new rule prohibiting primary and secondary schools from writing exam questions that require students to study ahead of their educational level.
To strengthen public education, she also plans to introduce “all-day” service in elementary schools nationwide by expanding after-school classes. Currently, the majority of elementary school classes run until 2 p.m., but she promised to offer extracurricular classes outside of regular school hours until 10 p.m.
For school reform, Park also pledges to allow middle school students to spend a semester without tests and put in place an evaluation process to focus on their career planning.
Park has nominated Seo Nam-soo, 60, as minister of education. Seo, former vice minister of the ministry, has more than 30 years of experience in the field.
By Cho Chung-un and Oh Kyu-wook