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Interview with Suhyeon Lee, who recently graduated with a master’s in Development Studies at Lund University. Suhyeon wrote her thesis on the Women, Peace, and Security agenda’s institutionalisation in Sweden and South Korea.

Suhyeon started her academic career with a bachelor’s in International Relations and International Security from Australian National University. Followed by professional experience in development cooperation projects in Lao PDR and with policy research in South Korea and Sweden. When she wanted to deepen her academic prospect with further studies in development, peace, and gender, the choose fell on Sweden. And further on to the research topic of comparing the difference on how South Korea and Sweden have chosen to implement the UN Security council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security (WPS) in policy development. Both internally (institutional and domestic) and externally (regional, international, development cooperation). Having the angle of two societies with different levels of gender equality.

“I think my background as a Korean, which has had an ongoing security issue related to the North-South division, led me to think of the context of peace and gender as the security issue as well as gender inequality, have been challenging to be discussed together in South Korea.”

The research showed that South Koreas implementation of the WPG agenda is coloured by the current security issue and low gender equality level in the country. Where the majority of women’s NGOs who have facilitated and participated in the policy process, have focused on the domestic level. Which influenced and limited the role of the civil society organisations activity and involvement at the international level. In this regard, the focus of the WPS agenda in South Korea has been at domestic level, rather than at international level.

By contrast, Swedish civil society organisations who have engaged in the WPS agenda have worked not only at domestic, but also at international level, bringing about significant changes. However, the Swedish WPS agenda also face a challenge with the loss of the political will under the new government. Also, while the government facilitated the Swedish agenda as part of foreign policy, the women’s NGOs initiated the South Korean agenda, which led to the conflicting result of the WPS agenda in Sweden and South Korea. 

In particular, the impact of gender equality and its awareness appeared significant in the implementation. Despite the WPS agenda and policy development, South Korea has experienced limited outcomes from a lack of gender perspective in the peace process (in particular, women’s issues at the domestic level, such as the North-South division) and a lack of high-ranking positions at the implementation level.

Looking ahead, the South Korean political process is ongoing but challenged dramatically by the new conservative regime, which declared its anti-feminist perspective. In particular, its decision to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family would significantly affect the further development and implementation of the WPS agenda. On the other hand, Sweden has also denounced its title of ‘feminist foreign policy’, which has been a leading foreign policy direction supporting the WPS agenda. Nevertheless, the existing public-private network for implementing the agenda at the domestic and international levels is likely to be continuous.

Suhyeon believes that the level of democracy has benefited the discussion and political development of the WPS agenda in South Korea. However, democracy also reflects public opinion, hidden rules, and norms that do not necessarily reflect all the values, such as gender equality. In this sense, she would agree that a high level of democracy provides the potential for more women’s participation. However, it does not guarantee anything, as not all people stand for gender equality, aware of the issue. In this sense, facilitating the gender perspective and its importance is crucial so that the level of democracy can ensure women’s participation.