Issue Deep Dive
South Korea / Gender Equality
Last updated: April 14, 2023
South Korea ranks as the 15th-largest DAC donor to gender equality in absolute terms and the 24th-largest DAC donor to gender equality in relative terms.
23% of South Korea’s bilateral allocable ODA was reported as gender-focused, or on projects related to gender equality in 2021, well below the DAC average of 42%.
Gender-related funding as a proportion of bilateral ODA increased significantly to 28% in 2020 from 12% in 2019, likely related to tagged gender funding related to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, relative funding dipped back down to 23% in 2021, indicating 2020 levels may be exceptional.
In 2021, 69% of South Korea’s bilateral ODA was spent on projects that were marked as screened but not targeting gender equality, while 9% was spent on projects not screened against the gender marker.
UNFPA opened a regional office in Seoul in February 2019, intended to strengthen the organization’s engagement with South Korea on matters related to public health, SRHR, and an aging population. UNFPA and South Korea plan to cooperate in implementing South Korea’s Action with Women and Peace initiative, launched in 2019.
In addition to its bilateral contributions, South Korea channels some funding for gender equality through multilateral organizations. MOGEF supports UN Women and considers UNFPA a priority multilateral, making multiple contributions specifically for the Action with Women and Peace initiative.
In recent years, South Korea has increased its collaboration with multilaterals on gender equality including through a partnership between KOICA, UNFPA, and UN Women, launched in 2018 to accelerate progress toward SDG 5, “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” through innovative country-level programming.
While 2020 saw a slight increase in the proportion of gender-related funding, funding for gender equality dropped in 2021. Gender equality funding could decrease further under the leadership of President Yoon Seok-Yeol, who ran on an anti-feminist platform and has increased focus on global health.
Under the leadership of Yoon Seok-youl, the prioritization of gender equality remains a concerning question for development advocates. The former conservative prosecutor considers himself an ‘anti-feminist’ and called for the abolition of the MOGEF. He has blamed the low birth rate in South Korea on feminism and leveraged sexist sentiments among the electorate to win votes in the election. He has also stated that he does not believe that gender-based systemic and structural discrimination exist in South Korea.
In its 2023 Implementation Plan, the government focused on improving women’s economic and social status by strengthening women’s economic capabilities and promoting women’s human rights. In line with this strategy, the ODA budget allocated to the MOGEF increased from KRW8.7 billion, or US$7 million, in 2022 to KRW9.1 billion, or US$7 million. Although the current administration does not support gender, gender ODA increased due to the establishment of the UN Women Gender Equality Center in Seoul.
Gender equality is included as one of the six basic pillars for development in South Korea’s Framework Act on International Development Cooperation.
KOICA’s Mid-term Sectoral Strategy 2021-2025 focuses on three strategic objectives for gender:
- Economic empowerment
- Social status; and
- Basic rights.
Gender is included as a cross-cutting sector for maximizing South Korea’s contributions to the SDGs, and gender mainstreaming is included within individual CPSs. However, if President Yoon Suk-yeol abolishes the MOGEF, as promised in his election campaign, funding for gender could decrease drastically.
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Maura Kitchens West
Maura Kitchens West
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