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South Korea Elects First Female President

60 year old Park Geun-hye defeated Moon Jae-in to become the first female president of South Korea. Park Geun-hye is leader of the conservative Saenuri Party (formerly the Grand National Party).

This won’t be the first time Park Geun-hye has lived in the Blue House (our equivalent of the White House). Park also lived there as a child when her father led South Korea from 1961 until he was assassinated in 1979. Park Geun-hye’s mother, Yuk Young-soo, was killed 5 years earlier in a failed attempt on her father’s life.

Park Geun-hye attended Songang University, in Seoul, South Korea, where she earned a degree in electrical engineering in 1974. She is not married or new to politics. Park Geun-hye was elected to the Grand National Party in 1998. Her first bid for the highest office in 2008 was unsuccessful. Determined to win the seat, Park Geun-hye tried again and made history by edging out her competitor with a razor-thin margin.

As a leader of a conservative party, Park Geun-hye overcame many of the same challenges conservatives faced in the United States election campaigns of 2012. Similarly, in crafting her campaign message Park Geun-hye moved more to the center to appeal not only to the older generation who remembered her father fondly, but to younger voters as well.

South Korea is similar to the United States in other ways as well. For example, voters are worried about the economy as well as debt, and women struggle against inequality and unequal pay. Women are woefully underrepresented in parliament and only hold about 15% of seats. Women leading corporations total only about 10%.

Although it is too early to tell, Park Geun-hye’s election is not thought to be a signal of a significant shift in the status of women on the whole. Despite her election, South Korea remains strongly patriarchal and women are, in most cases, limited by traditional roles and expectations. Some believe, as has sometimes been the case when women come to power (e.g. Bhutto, Aquino, and Gandhi), that Park Geun-hye’s election was possible only because of her relationship to a man (her father) and unlikely to significantly disturb the status quo.

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