The State of Gender Quotas in South Korea

By Cameryn Chan on May 26, 2021

An exploration of how gender-positive policies have had mixed results for women candidates in South Korea.

Blue House, Presidential residence in South Korea (CC BY-SA 3.0)


South Korea’s 2020 national election saw multiple achievements, including turnout — which exceeded expectations given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — and a surge in women’s representation at the national level. A record 57 women won seats in office, six more than last year. Women now make up a historic 19% of parliamentary seats.

While this is a great feat, South Korea continues to struggle with gender balanced representation in the political sphere. Currently, for women’s representation in the National parliament, South Korea ranks 119th in the world, severely lagging behind its democratic allies. Despite adopting gender quotas in the early 2000s, women’s representation has failed to make significant progress toward fair representation for women in the past 20 years.

In truth, not all gender quotas are created equal, and the lack of progress for gender diversity in South Korean politics is largely due to the following reasons:

  • There is a lack of party compliance for the gender quotas. If quotas were fully implemented, women’s representation would rise to 33.6%.
  • Proportional Representation (PR), which has higher women’s representation than SMDs, only elects 18% of South Korea’s parliamentary seats.
  • Political parties tend to pit women against male incumbents, who have a much higher chance of winning, and/or are forced to run in districts that have strong opposition support.
  • Women who are already in office do not receive proper training, decreasing their chances of re-election.

South Korea is a prime example of how gender quotas are not a fool-proof method of gaining gender equality in the national assembly. But despite these loopholes, do not be quick to write off gender quotas as a doomed strategy. Research shows that South Korean women have an easier time getting their foot through the door with the quota system, even if they are not guaranteed re-election.

Recognizing potential flaws is how we can move forward in our path towards gender equality on a worldwide-scale. Other strategies, such as focusing on recruitment targets or fairer electoral reforms, should be prioritized as well.


Cameryn is a Spring 2021 outreach and advocacy intern for RepresentWomen. She is a senior at UC Santa Cruz pursuing a double major in Legal Studies and Politics.