Saenuri Party presidential candidate Park Geun-hye told supporters at a campaign rally over the weekend that the "greatest change and innovation" she can bring to the table would be the election of Korea's first female president. She added that female leaders are a "global trend" and said Korea needs a leader who is willing to "sacrifice for the country as a mother does for her children."
Rival political parties questioned her credentials. Main opposition Democratic United Party spokesman Jung Sung-ho said Park is merely the successor to her father Park Chung-hee's "totalitarian and authoritarian politics" and criticized her for knowing nothing of the concerns of other women, including having children and worrying about the price of groceries. Park is independently wealthy, single and has no children.
Park Sun-sook, a spokesman for independent presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo, questioned whether Park's political track record shows her doing anything to advance women's rights.
Any debate about whether a woman should be president is outdated and does not fit the latest trends. It is unheard of in modern societies free of religious or gender discrimination. The ability to lead a country depends on a candidate's qualities and not on his or her gender.
The view that a woman would somehow be less capable than a man of leading a country has been out of date at least since Margaret Thatcher, known as the "Iron Lady" led the U.K. for more than a decade starting in the 1980s. Thatcher was not shy about going to war over the Falkland Islands. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has governed Europe's richest country for seven years, and women have been elected as leaders of Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Denmark, Kosovo, Lithuania, Slovakia and Thailand over the last three years.
During her first bid for the presidency five years ago, Park consistently led support ratings until North Korea conducted a nuclear test in October of 2006 and she was overtaken by rival Lee Myung-bak. Now a poll by Media Research on Oct. 1 shows that 27.8 percent of Koreans would choose Park as the most capable candidate to handle issues of diplomacy and national security, as against only 22.3 percent for DUP candidate Moon Jae-in, and 12.9 percent for Ahn.
But it is equally a stereotype to think that Park would be more capable than her two male rivals in tackling traditional women's issues. Male leaders in Finland, Norway, Sweden and other European countries were responsible for adopting policies effectively supporting women and children.
Still, it clear that views on gender equality have changed significantly in Korea over the last five years. Park's gender worked against her five years ago, but now it has become an advantage.