The changing role of women in North Korean society

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According to Marcus Noland, the deputy director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, North Korean women were traditionally pushed out of employment in core state organizations. “And that is why they ended up in the market,” he adds. “Certainly, there was no intention on the part of North Korea decision-makers to raise the role of women relative to men. Just the opposite.”

“Women, because of their prominence in the market, are at the forefront of acts of civil disobedience,” Noland says, emphasizing that civil disobedience is still extremely unusual in North Korea. “The protests are generally reactive and defensive in nature, but women are very prominent in them.”

The extra burden women carry is beginning to have social consequences, with young women hoping to delay marriage to avoid taking on a husband. For men, their emasculation within their own households is now a fact of life.

“Whatever your wife tells you to do, you do,” says Mr. Kim, despairing. “If women say it’s a cow, it’s a cow. If they say it’s a giraffe, it’s a giraffe. We are slaves, slaves of the women. Women’s voices have become louder. …  Men without wives become beggars. They become so hungry that they can’t go to work. Then they have to go to market to beg. This has happened to between five and seven men I know.”

And North Korean women now have a new figurehead: the fashionable wife of the young leader Kim Jong Un, first lady Ri Sol-ju. North Korean women hope her high-profile role might translate into gains for them.

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This entry was posted in , by Grant Montgomery.

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