Women in North Korea

According to an article written by a Korean in the Economist in October, 2010, working women in South Korea earn 64% of what their male counterparts do. In addition, most major companies do not have women at all in senior jobs. Although there may be many reasons behind this, gender discrimination must be one of them.[1] In one of the lectures given during my internship at the Ministry of Unification last summer, one North Korean defector told the audience that some male defectors from the North had a hard time adjusting to the gender equality (despite the statistics given above) in South Korea. She also told that most North Korean men never go into the kitchen to help out their wives or themselves.

Although gender inequality is pervasive in North Korea, it was one of the first developing countries to provide legal means to improve women’s rights. On July 30, 1946, the Law on Sex Equality was announced. This law emphasized equal rights in all spheres, free marriage and divorce, and equal rights to inherit property and to share property in case of divorce.[2] It ended arranged marriages, polygamy, concubinage, the buying and selling of women, prostitution, and the professional entertainer system. In addition, in the North Korean Labor Law, women are guaranteed seventy-seven days of maternity leave with full pay, paid baby-feeding breaks during work, a prohibition against overtime or night work for pregnant or nursing women, and the transfer of pregnant women to easier work with equal pay.[3] North Korean women are considered an important source of labor. While women had not been allowed to work or vote in Western Europe or the United States before women’s rights were largely improved, in North Korea, women are expected to fully participate in the labor force outside the home. This demand for commitment is based on severe labor shortage in North Korea and the ideology that every citizen is equal.[4] Furthermore, with the introduction of the nuclear family system, women’s role in the society became more like men’s. In purchasing and owning land, women have even more power than men do.[5]

Despite these laws to ensure equal rights between men and women, sexual inequality still exists at the expense of women in North Korea. Male workers earn more money than female ones. Sons are still preferred over daughters. Like what the North Korean defector told the audience last summer, women do most, if not all, housework in addition to their jobs outside the home.[6] From this, we can see that Confucianism still permeates through North Korea as well as South Korea. But women as well as men of the North will not have a critical view that will enable them to realize the sexual inequality and how it does not fit to the modern world until foreign ideas are introduced in North Korea and hopefully this will be soon.


[2] Park, Kyung Ae. “Women and Revolution in North Korea.” Pacific Affairs Winter 65.4 (1992): 533. Print.

[3] Park, Kyung Ae. “Women and Revolution in North Korea.” Pacific Affairs Winter 65.4 (1992): 533. Print.

[4] Halliday, Jon. “Women in North Korea: an Interview with the Korean Democratic Women’s Union Journal.” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 17 (1985): 47-48. Print.

[5] Park, Kyung Ae. “Women and Revolution in North Korea.” Pacific Affairs Winter 65.4 (1992): 533. Print.

[6] Park, Kyung Ae. “Women and Revolution in North Korea.” Pacific Affairs Winter 65.4 (1992): 536. Print.

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