(ATTN: UPDATES with main opposition party's reaction in paras 8-11)
By Park Boram
SEOUL, Oct. 6 (Yonhap) -- The interior ministry announced a government reorganization plan Thursday under which the gender ministry will be abolished while the veterans affairs agency will be elevated to the ministry level and a separate body for consular services will be newly established.
The plan, announced by Interior Minister Lee Sang-min, requires parliamentary approval. But it remains unclear whether the plan can pass through the National Assembly as the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), which holds a majority, is negative about abolishing the gender ministry.
Under the plan, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family will be disbanded and a new office in charge of gender and family issues will be established under the health ministry.
Abolishing the gender ministry, lauded by young male voters but decried by feminist groups, has been a key campaign pledge by President Yoon Suk-yeol.
The plan also calls for upgrading the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, which currently holds administrative status as a sub-ministry-level government body, into an independent ministry. The promotion will empower the veterans affairs minister, who can now only sit in when the Cabinet convenes, to fully join the Cabinet's decision-making process.
Under the reorganization plan, a new sub-ministry-level agency handling consular affairs and services will also be set up under the wing of the foreign minister and absorb such duties currently being carried out by the foreign ministry, officials said.
The envisioned agency will also take on new projects, including networking and education involving Koreans overseas, at a time when some 7.3 million Koreans or Korean descendants are living outside of the home country, according to officials.
Following the announcement, the DP voiced opposition to the plan, saying abolishing the ministry could undermine the country's gender equality policy.
"It is obvious that government programs related to family, youth and gender equality that the gender ministry has been in charge will get reduced ... It is time to strengthen the gender ministry's role and function, not weaken them," DP lawmakers who belong to the parliamentary gender committee said in a statement.
The party's floor spokesperson Lee Soo-jin said the party delivered its concerns to the government after being reported on the reorganization plan Wednesday but they were not reflected in the final plan.
"We express our concern on the fact that the government's report to an opposition party was nothing but routine procedure."
Women's advocacy groups also strongly protested the reorganization plan that they said will significantly undercut the government's gender equality initiative.
"Being an already tiny government body, the gender ministry has been under criticism that it is not doing enough for gender equality, and the change will leave it with no power at all," Yang Lee Hyun-kyung, co-head of the Korean Women's Associations United, said.
Chung Hyun-back, a professor at Sungkyunkwan University and former gender minister, called for the withdrawal of the plan, saying it will "marginalize" gender-related policies.
Yoon's outreach to Southeast Asia keeps China in the loop
Allies' defense chiefs highlight watertight alliance based on full extended deterrence against N. Korean threats
(News Focus) Police under fire for lax response to emergency calls hours before Itaewon crush
Police under fire for lax response to emergency calls hours before Itaewon crush
Role of administrative authorities questioned in Itaewon disaster