“Keep a tight reign on the president’s relatives.” (Mrs. Roh) “Harmonize traditional and newly-required roles.” (Mrs. Chung) “Focus on elevating women’s status and meeting childcare needs.” (Mrs. Kwon) The wives of presidential candidates were as confident in their pledges as their husbands.
New Millennium Democratic Party candidate Roh Mu Hyun’s wife Kwon Yang Sook, National Unity 21 candidate Chung Mong Jun’s wife Kim Young Myeong, and Democratic Labor Party candidate Kwon Young Gil’s wife Kang Ji Yeon attended a seminar on ‘the role of the First Lady’ organized by the Association of Korean Women Journalists on November 12. At the request of the moderator, the would-be first ladies revealed a variety of ‘theories on being the first lady.’ Grand National Party candidate Lee Hwe Chang’s wife Han In Ok did not attend.
Kwon (Mrs. Roh) said, “The first lady must form a close network with women leaders to work for the elevation of women’s social status and the achievement of gender equality. Such efforts, however, must be in harmony with current laws, institutions and the people’s sentiments.” As if conscious of the corruption scandals involving the current president’s sons, Kwon also added, “The first lady must strictly supervise and manage the relatives, children and friends of the president.”
The first lady should…
“… play the role of the opposition party in the Blue House.” - Kwon Yang Sook (Mrs. Roh)
“… be the president’s political comrade.” - Kang Ji Yeon (Mrs. Kwon)
“… harmonize discrete aid and active assistance.” - Kim Young Myeong (Mrs. Chung)
Kwon also added, “I have always tried to help my husband without either over-doing or under-doing things. I hope to play the role of the opposition party within the Blue House if my husband is elected.” Kwon’s choice of roles as the first lady includes ▲guaranteeing the president’s physical and mental well-being ▲keeping the president aware of opposing opinions ▲developing women’s potential and raising women’s status.
Kang Ji Yeon, wife of candidate Kwon Young Gil, said, “The duties of the first lady are as important as the husband’s management of national affairs. She should not remain simply an aide but become an active supporter.” Mentioning former first lady of France Danielle Miterrand as an example, Kang emphasized that “the first lady is the president’s political comrade and partner.” Francois and Danielle Miterrand were comrades in the Resistance during World War II.
Kang also said that the first lady should “actively initiate efforts to address gender discrimination and childcare needs.” She promised to “stand by the socially marginalized while working to elevate the status of women.” Kang also added that “the Korean public would find it hard to accept Hillary Clinton’s style as first lady.”
Unlike the other two would-be first ladies who read from a prepared script, candidate Chung’s wife Kim Young Myeong gave a short impromptu speech. Kim agreed with the seminar’s conclusion that “first ladies have a certain role to play,” and said that “the first lady is a position requiring difficult decisions and considerations.”
Kim added, “People seem to view the role of the first lady differently these days. I think it is important to harmonize the traditional role of discrete aid and the new role of active supporter.”
The 3 ladies did not leave their seats throughout the 3-hour seminar, listening attentively to the presentations. After the event, they exchanged words with the participants one by one.
Professor Ham Seong Deuk from the Public Administrations Department of Korea University said at the seminar, “the first lady must listen to the voice of the people, and actively advise the president as befits the first chief-of-staff and political partner of the highest policy decision maker.”
Professor Ham also said that “there must be a policy support system in place for the first lady to fulfill her role.” She recommended ▲the appointment of the tentatively-named ‘special aide to the first lady’ and ▲the announcement by each would-be first lady of her ‘pet project’ outlining what she would do when she becomes first lady. Ham also proposed ▲increasing the staff and budget for the First Lady Office in the Blue House and ▲evaluating the past first ladies’ activities and achievements from a long-term perspective.