A group of female activists, including Gloria Steinem and two Nobel Peace Prize laureates, said they will walk across the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas this Sunday, despite criticism they are being used as propaganda tools by North Korea’s government.
The group of 30 women from 15 countries will not go through the symbolic truce village of Panmunjom, where the Korean War armistice was signed in 1953, because officials in South Korea and the United Nations Command responsible for security in the area said they could not guarantee the group’s safety. Instead, the women will take a route that links the two Koreas to the Kaesong industrial complex, a joint North-South business venture near the border.
The plan to walk across the DMZ, which organizers say is intended to start a dialogue and bring international attention to the need for a formal end to the Korean War and the peninsula’s division, has been controversial. The DMZ is one of the most heavily fortified in the world. There is little direct contact between the two Koreas and, with few exceptions, it is considered a crime for citizens of either country to cross the DMZ.
Organizer Christine Ahn, a Korean-American peace activist, said in Pyongyang, “We spoke about the impact of militarism around the world, including in Liberia, Colombia, Japan, northern Ireland as well as the United States.”
Members of the group said they feel the crossing in itself is a breakthrough. Leymah Gbowee, a Nobel laureate from Liberia, said, “Not only have we received the blessing for our historic crossing, we’ve gotten both Korean governments to communicate. That is a success.”
“We have accomplished what we set out to do — to walk across the DMZ on behalf of both North and South Korean women. They cannot walk, so we must,” said Steinem, 81, an iconic figure in the United States for her role in the women’s rights movement. “Over 60 years of silence has not worked. Why not try human contact?”