Legislating for gender equality in Korea: the role of women and political parties in shaping the timing of legislation

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This study examines the factors that shape the timing of a passage of a piece of controversial gender equality legislation by conducting a case study of the abolition of the

This study examines the factors that shape the timing of a passage of a piece of controversial gender equality legislation by conducting a case study of the abolition of the family-head system in South Korea. This study draws on the method of process tracing with the data collected from the archives and the interviews. The case study mainly compares the legislative processes for the bills on the abolition of the family-head system in 16th and the 17th National Assemblies, in which the bills resulted to opposite outcomes.

This study argues that the institutions of the legislative process mediate the impact of relevant actors for gender equality policymaking. In the bill initiation stage, only a small number of the elected officials are required to introduce a bill, and women representatives serve a vital role as they are more likely to introduce feminist bills than their male colleagues. This study argues that 1) the background of the women influencing their commitment to feminist agendas, 2) strong women’s movements contributing to issue saliency, and thereby the policy priorities of the issue, and 3) the resources and constraints inside the party for feminist policymaking influenced by party ideology, shape how active women representatives will be in advocating controversial gender equality agendas.

In the later stages of policymaking, the efforts of a small number of women members are offset by that of political parties. Emphasizing the positive agenda control of the majority party and the negative agenda control of the minority parties, this study suggests that party issue positions are critical for the outcome of the bill. To explain the party issue position (re)shape, this study underlines 1) public opinion, 2) the emergence of new voter groups leading to the decline of the cleavage politics, 3) new party entry, and 4) women in the party and the party leadership. The findings highlight that the major parties’ issue positions shift in the 17th National Assembly greatly contributed to amplifying the bargaining power of the key allies and weakening the institutional leverage of the opponents, leading to the successful legislation of the bill.