With rumours that Kim Yo-jong might take over the leadership of North Korea after Kim Jong-un, we take a look at the role gender plays in society, especially politics.
Kim Jong-un failing to appear at a national celebration parade of his grandfather’s birthday last month sparked speculations about his health. On May 2, however, he made his first public appearance in 20 days as he celebrated the completion of a fertiliser factory near Pyongyang, the state media said. Interestingly, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency reported that Kim attended the ceremony in Sunchon with other senior officials, including his sister Kim Yo-jong, who many analysts predict would take over if her brother is suddenly unable to rule.
Not surprisingly, Kim Yo-jong, in her early 30s, has become the focus of global attention. Some analysts say she is the most likely choice to follow her brother, given her ties to the “Paektu” bloodline that the family claims for divine ruling rights—the Kim dynasty is referred to in North Korea as the ‘Mount Paektu’ bloodline, a three-generation lineage of North Korean leadership descending from the country’s first leader Kim Il-sung. Other analysts, however, believe that the male-dominated party would prefer a collective leadership. A male member of the Kim family has been in charge of North Korea ever since its founding by Kim Il-sung in 1948.
With few details out in the public domain about the proposed leadership, reports suggest that Kim Yo-jong is very well positioned as well as groomed to be the next dictator of North Korea’s governmental departments until Kim Jong-un’s son, who is about 10, is old enough to take charge.
Kim Yo-jong has been by her brother’s side at summits with US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, representing North Korea at the 2018 Winter Olympics and became the first immediate member of the ruling family to visit Seoul, where she delivered a personal message from her brother inviting South Korean President Moon Jae-in to a summit.
She has also held numerous high-ranking positions, including first vice-director of Korean Workers’ Party Central Committee and first vice-director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department. She was also recently promoted as an alternate member of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party’s powerful Central Committee Politburo, continuing her ascent in the country’s leadership hierarchy. She even praised Trump for sending a letter at a time when “big difficulties and challenges lie ahead in the way of developing ties” between the two countries, according to Associated Press, which quoted North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency.
If we were to believe the policymakers and analysts who suggest the sister’s name to lead the reclusive nuclear-armed nation, there are apprehensions of a woman ruling a society rigidly controlled by men. Gender plays a big role in society, especially in politics, so ordinary people, besides the male dominant leadership, might also resist a female leader.
But what happens if there is no other family member who could take the reins from the leader except his sister? North Korea has been ruled by the same family for seven decades, so chances are that Kim Yo-jong would be involved, especially as the bloodline is more important than gender in North Korea.
But the larger question to be answered here is that do societies where women are in leadership positions, or involved in decision-making, work better? In the past, we have seen a number of women politicians and heads of state and international bodies take charge—Hillary Clinton has been the US secretary of state, the third woman to hold the position in the last three administrations. Michele Bachelet, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Dilma Roussef were elected as presidents in Chile, Argentina and Brazil, respectively. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected president of Liberia and Christine Lagarde became the first female director at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2011. The eighth and current holder of the office is Angela Merkel, who was elected in 2005 and re-elected in 2009, 2013 and 2018. She is the first woman to be elected chancellor and the first chancellor since the fall of the Berlin Wall to have been raised in the former East Germany.
Theresa May (2016-19) was the prime minister of the UK. Jacinda Kate Laurell Ardern is a New Zealand politician serving as the 40th Prime Minister of New Zealand since October 2017. Finland appointed Sanna Mirella Marin as the Prime Minister of Finland in December 2019, making her the world’s youngest serving prime minister. The list goes on. When women have led diverse countries, they have proved significantly better leaders than their male counterparts. Could Kim Yo-jong outshine her male rivals and debunk the age-old dynasty tradition of male-dominant leadership? Time will tell.