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Age of female defense chiefs

Posted May. 19, 2017 07:19,   

Updated May. 19, 2017 07:25

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Carme Chacón, Spain’s first female defense minister, raised many eyebrows when she visited a marine unit deployed overseas in 2008 while she was eight months pregnant at the age of 37. The scene of a heavily pregnant woman reviewing troops has become a symbol of the civilian control over the military. Although the military was extremely exclusive to women in a country with high male chauvinism, the Spanish Socialist Party’s appointment of a woman as defense minister was refreshingly shocking. She died a month ago due to her chronic disease.

It is no longer rare to see woman leadership in national defense. The Netherlands, Norway, Italy, Albania and Slovenia have female defense chiefs. In 2013, German Chancellor Angela Merkel named a mother-of-seven gynecologist as the country’s first female defense minister. In Argentina and Chile, revolutionary governments appointed woman defense ministers to clean up the remnants of their military governments.

French President Emmanuel Macron appointed Sylvie Goulard, a member of the European Parliament, as defense minister in his first and gender-balanced cabinet. She is the second female defense chief of France. Tomomi Inada, Japan’s right-wing politician, is also Japan’s second female defense minister. It is unclear how much longer South Korea, the world’s only divided nation, has to wait to see its first woman defense minister, another glass ceiling was broken on Wednesday, when former lieutenant-colonel Pi Woo-jin was named the country’s female veterans affairs minister. A former special forces company commander and the first Korean woman to pilot an Army helicopter, Pi was forced to leave the Army after undergoing a breast cancer surgery in 2006, before returning to service after winning a lawsuit against the military.

During his election campaigning, President Moon Jae-in promised to appoint more women to senior government posts by starting with filling 30 percent of his first cabinet seats with women. He named Cho Hyeon-ok, a visiting professor at Ewha Womans University, as South Korea’s first female senior presidential secretary for personnel affairs, taking a step toward a gender-balanced government. While chatting with his senior secretaries recently, President Moon brought up the gender topic, saying how “surprising” it was to see Peru and Chile achieving a gender-balanced cabinet and naming women as defense chiefs. Cho replied by saying that previous presidents tended to appoint women mainly to social and welfare fields and that the challenge would be to break such a fixed idea. It remains to be seen whether the Moon administration will achieve a gender-balanced cabinet and name a female defense minister.