Women’s underrepresentation in politics is a problem that plagues most countries around the world. Women constitute only 22% of the world’s parliamentarians, and equal gender representation remains an elusive and distant goal for many developed nations. There seems to be no sure-fire way to get more women into positions of political power, and discovering answers to the “gender problem” in politics remains a constant subject of political debate and academic inquiry. Why don’t more women run for office? Do they lack certain networking connections that men can more easily attain? Just how helpful are gender quotas?
Studying South Korean politics, and particularly South Korean candidate nomination methods, allows students of gender and politics a new arena in which to examine the obstacles that women face in their pursuit of political power. South Korea’s unique system of proportional representation, gender quotas, and candidate nomination offers new challenges to the task of creating political gender equality. However, scholars of party studies or gender and politics do not often consider South Korea—a gap in the literature that my study hopes to fill.
What began as an inquiry into politicians’ professional networks turned into an investigation of Korean parties’ candidate nomination processes, often referred to as kongchŏn (Kor.공천). Highly secretive and deeply misunderstood, the kongchŏn process is the most important mechanism by which Koreans attain political positions. Investigations into the kongchŏn reveal that candidates for public office must navigate a complex social network among established Korean politicians, in addition to Korean political parties’ opaque candidate nomination process, in their pursuit of political office. As a consequence of women’s lack of connections in politics, they encounter unique difficulties during the kongchŏn process. In my presentation, I will discuss the aspects of the kongchŏn that constitute the greatest obstacles for women candidates, and how the South Korean government might enforce regulations on political parties to aid women’s representation in Korean politics.
Chelsea Carlson graduated from Harvard College in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in East Asian Studies and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, and a minor in Government. She is a junior researcher affiliated with Ewha Womans University in Seoul, and studies with Eun-Mee Kim at the Graduate School of International Studies. As an undergraduate, she researched the recruitment of women candidates by the Republican Party, and wrote her thesis on one of the Republic of Korea’s first women politicians, Im Yŏng-sin. Her Fulbright project combines her interest in politics with her education in Korean culture and history. In the future, she hopes to channel the expertise she has developed in Korean politics over the course of her Fulbright year into graduate study of political science.