On My Way to See You

There is a new show on Korea’s Channel A called “On My Way to See You”. The show invites female North Korean refugees to talk about the experiences they had as teenagers and young adults in the North. Some of the ladies were performers at North Korea’s national performing arts group in Pyongyang, while others had less privileged lives and witnessed their family members’ deaths to diseases that modern technology could have easily prevent. Kim Jieun, from Youngwon, Pyeongannamdo, had a particularly heartbreaking story about her grandmother.

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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] Continue reading

U.S. Presidential Candidates on North Korea

The Korean peninsula is expected to enter a new phase as a result of leadership changes in 2012. South Korea will have a new president by the end of the year, and this is the first fiscal year for Kim Jong-un who assumed the supreme commandership of North Korea after his father’s sudden death in December 2011. In addition, the United States presidential election of 2012 will be held in November. Xi Jinping of China will succeed Hu Jintao as General Secretary and President. As six-party talks play a crucial role in determining the dynamics between South and North Koreas, all of these leadership changes should be taken into account when predicting the future of the peninsula. With the U.S. election being eight months ahead, now is the time to take a look at each candidate’s view on North Korea and how it can affect the South-North relationship in the future.

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Madeleine Albright and Kim Jong-Il

On Friday 3rd of December 2011, former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright addressed the future of US foreign policy and the leadership of women in helping to build prosperity, foster peace, and promote democracy across the globe at the London School of Economics in London, United Kingdom. This lecture was part of her tour to the UK to promote the Madeleine Korbel Albright Institute for Global Affairs with Wellesley College, her alma mater. The first female secretary of state had an hour-long Q&A session following giving a speech on women’s need to be more active and supportive of each other. After a number of questions about her experiences as a woman, Dr. Albright was asked to talk about her experience in North Korea. She gave the audience a detailed narrative on her trip. Continue reading