Number Of Female Leaders Turns Heads In Seoul

When Dilma Rouseff takes office as president of Brazil in January, four of the G-20 leaders will be women. (The others are Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina, Angela Merkel of Germany and Julia Gillard of Australia.) Collectively, the G-20 economies make up 85 percent of global gross national product and 80 percent of world trade.

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In attendance at the G-20 are four female leaders: German Chancellor Angela Merkel; Julia Gillard, the prime minister of Australia;�Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, president of Argentina; and Brazil's president-elect Dilma Rousseff. Their presence has gone relatively unremarked here in the U.S., but it's a different story in South Korea, as Doualy Xaykaothao reports.

DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO: Mostly the news here has been about unprecedented security around the G-20 venue. And, well, sure, quantitative easing, currency and trade balances, but there's something else locals are finding interesting - an unusually high number of women leaders at the summit.

Ms. CHANG YOUNG SOOK: (Speaking Korean)

XAYKAOTHAO: That's Chang Young Sook, a graduate student studying at Ewha Womens University. She says, generally speaking, in Korean society, women are getting higher positions.

Ms. SOOK: (Speaking Korean)

XAYKAOTHAO: But, still, she says, the society is male-dominated and she hopes by seeing female world leaders in Korea for the G-20, more Korean women will be inspired to get into politics.

(Soundbite of streets)

XAYKAOTHAO: How about a female president in South Korea? I put that question to Shin Young Park.

Ms. SHIN YOUNG PARK: Well, someday, yeah, but maybe few centuries later.

XAYKAOTHAO: Park is a student double majoring in French literature and business.

Ms. PARK: Even my father, who has three daughters and no sons, doesn't believe that women have power to do politics. I believe that majority of male adults have similar opinions about that.

XAYKAOTHAO: But 21-year-old Eun Mi Park, a sophomore also studying at Ewha, says seeing the four female leaders of the G-20 is encouraging.

Ms. EUN MI PARK: It gives me a perspective that I will be able to present myself as a woman in a global society and I will be able to have capacity what men used to have in the past and that now I can have.

XAYKAOTHAO: Women's participation in South Korean politics is low, but growing.

Professor HAHM JOON-HO (International Economics and Finances, Yonsei University): Korean society was a Confucian society traditionally and women, although they are very active, bright and, you know, have great talent, there have been some implicit and hidden feeling.

XAYKAOTHAO: Hahm Joon-Ho is a professor of international economics and finances at Yonsei University.

Prof. HO: Because it's clear it's changing very rapidly. I think the emergence of women leaders, especially in the area of politics, I think is very important step forward, more democratized and more equal opportunity society for Korean.

XAYKAOTHAO: So Jin Park is a feminist scholar who lectures at Yun Sae University. When reached on her cell phone, she says adamantly...

Ms. SO JIN PARK (Feminist Scholar): I hate politics, actually. But since we have more and more women political leaders, it might be a better world.

XAYKAOTHAO: A better world, she says, and a more inclusive one.

For NPR News, I'm Doualy Xaykaothao in Seoul.

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