Shin Hyun-young, a member of the Health and Welfare Committee of the National Assembly, is a former medical doctor and a working mother in her early 40s. Her business card is unique and distinctive, as it features an illustration of herself holding her second child along with the phrase “I will make the country safe from infectious diseases for our children.”
This business card encapsulates her legislative activities and parliamentary politics. Ever since she made it to the National Assembly as a proportional representative in May 2020, she has been active on the Health and Welfare Committee. Not only does it indicate her area of expertise, it also portrays her life goal. We met with Rep. Shin, who represents women, young adults, medical services and welfare, to hear more about her goals.
Can you tell me about your experience in the National Assembly after being involved in legislation and government policies?
I believe it is necessary to bolster the expertise and authority of the National Assembly. In Korea, the executive branch has great power. What the National Assembly can do is enact and amend laws; examine and approve government spending; and check and challenge the work of the government. To fulfill these roles properly, the assembly needs to have acquired the necessary expertise. The National Assembly and the executive branch must also work in close cooperation. During my first two years at the Health and Welfare Committee, I made great efforts to keep the country safe from infectious diseases. Now it is our duty to create a country that is safe from disasters. We must improve the current situation, where problems in the medical system are being overlooked.
The Itaewon disaster raised a necessary alarm about the urgent need to develop national measures against safety-related accidents. What measures do you see as necessary?
Although the roles of the police, firefighters, and medical staff at the scene are important when a massive gathering is expected, the top priority is still prevention. Also, the government's response was important in handling the aftermath of the incident, but it was unsatisfactory in many aspects. The government lacked a sense of duty for public safety. It is critical to conduct an overall inspection of the safety management system. We must overcome the limitations of failing to use the existing safety net.
Where did you place your focus while serving in the Health and Welfare Committee in the second half of the 21st term of the National Assembly?
It is important to create a health care system with a solid foundation. The response to COVID-19 left much to be desired as medical personnel, the infrastructure and medical institutions all exposed their vulnerabilities. Although we must studiously prepare for the next infectious disease, voices calling attention to these vulnerabilities have also died away. As the importance of disaster preparedness in emergency medical services has been emphasized, it is necessary to refine the roles of the central government, such as the Ministry of Health and Welfare, and ensure close cooperation with the private medical sector to build a consistent and organized system. However, the current manual has limitations and is in need of an upgrade. The welfare committee has one medical doctor and three pharmacists as its members. As the only doctor on the committee, I feel a profound sense of responsibility.
People have loudly voiced their concerns regarding the low birth rate and aging population. What measures do you see as necessary in the mid to long term?
Due to the super-aging of the population, the medical system needs to be completely reformed. To guarantee people's rights to life and the pursuit of happiness, it is vital to come up with measures to facilitate “dying well” at the end of one’s life. The causes of the low birth rate include various problems involving housing, employment, education and parental leave. A cash reward is only an alternative. A comprehensive policy is needed for each life cycle. If the Yoon Seok-yeol administration fulfills its responsibility in good faith as a caring state, the opposition party will give its full cooperation.
It is still difficult for women and the socially underprivileged to work in government affairs and advocacy due to the “glass ceiling.” What measures do you see as necessary at the National Assembly and government?
In the National Assembly alone, female lawmakers account for only 19 percent (57 out of 300). It is significantly lower than the OECD average (28.8 percent in 2017). There would be even fewer lawmakers who have experienced childbirth and child care like me. We need to deliberate on why young adults aren’t getting married and giving birth, and deal with the pertinent issues accordingly — although it is almost overlooked in reality. The fear of marriage, pregnancy, childbirth, parenting and child care has become stressful for the younger generation. As the current administration emphasizes the market economy and meritocracy, polarization is getting worse. There is still a long way to go to achieve gender equality, and it doesn’t matter whether you are conservative or progressive. The National Assembly needs more people who can voice their concerns over the issue.
What are your thoughts on the abolition of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family?
A plan to restructure government organizations has been put on the table before the Public Administration and Security Committee, but it will not be easy for the bill to pass. We have to come up with policies for women and social minorities, but unfortunately it has become too politicized.
How do you feel after being involved in politics?
There is a lot that politics can do. If I try, there would be endless tasks to perform. The reason I became a doctor was to help sick people regain their health and happiness. The same goes for politics. It's all about helping people in need. I believe that I'm in this position to serve the people, and I intend to make every effort toward serving that purpose.
Would you like to run for the National Assembly again once the 21st term is over?
The more terms you serve, the broader the scope of your role becomes in the National Assembly. Many politicians run for a second or third term to carry out more tasks in an efficient manner. However, what matters most is how the people would rate you as a member of the National Assembly.
What has been the most rewarding moment for you since getting involved in politics?
In this year’s inspection for state administration, we extracted apologies from the Minister of Health and Welfare, the head of the Social Security Intelligence Service, and the CEO of LG CNS concerning errors in the next-generation social information system. The CEO of Il-Yang Pharmaceutical and the CEO of Dr. Now, an online treatment platform, also offered their apologies for manipulating stock prices during the COVID-19 pandemic and conducting unethical behavior on its platform, respectively. In addition, we were able to obtain Coupang's apology and the promise of a refund for its controversial selling of unauthorized COVID-19 test kits. In last year’s state administration inspection, we helped Jung Sung-jae, the father of the late Jeong Yoo-yeop -- who died due to delayed treatment in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic -- obtain an apology from the government.
Could you tell us more about your aspirations for the remaining term of office as a member of the National Assembly representing young adults as well as the medical world?
From the three women found dead in Suwon to the two women who committed suicide in Sinchon, problems caused by the social isolation of households in crisis continue to persist. In October, I proposed the Social Security Benefits Act as a chief author to ensure the discovery of households in crisis with unknown residential addresses. I will remain entirely dedicated to plugging the hole in welfare. We will strive to make the country safe from disaster and repeated infectious diseases and establish policy objectives for health and medical services to narrow the polarization of rich and poor. We will also build a welfare state to respond to low birth rates and an aging population.
By Yang Jung-won (email@example.com)