Anecdotal evidence collected in interviews by Kim Seok-hyang, a professor of North Korea studies at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, indicates that women are the main breadwinners in 80 to 90 percent of North Korean households — and that is having social consequences within the family.
One North Korean woman says those social changes are playing out in her own family. “I don’t know if you can call it power, but … we can speak louder now,” she says. “In the past, we obeyed our husbands. But now they can’t make money. Women have to make money and feed them. Women have become the heads of the family. They make the money and buy the food. Men cannot say what they want.”
She admits her friends mockingly call their husbands “puppies” or “pets” because they have to be fed, yet they do nothing.
A typical woman may earns about 3,000 won a day at the markets that have sprung up — the equivalent of less than 50 cents — at black market rates. But that’s double what her husband would earn in an entire month, were he to get paid.
A male interviewee who has an office job in a state-run company complains, “I get paid 1,200 won (5 cents!) a month. It’s a joke. There’s nothing you can do with that salary. A kilo of rice is something between 5,000 to 7,000 won.”