The Plight of Women in North Korea

By Christina Vogt

North Korea adopted the nine-point law on the equality of men and women back in July 30, 1946, under which it abolished prostitution and concubinage and also guaranteed the same wage for the same work. "Stories of female academicians excelling in their fields, as well as females working in factories mainly run by women were also broadcast last year. North Korea adopted the laws, which they state  are quite advanced even by modern standards. These were enacted to make up for the huge losses of the country's male workforce after the Korean War.

Given the current plight of North Korean women, like women everywhere, they have been historically called to make up for labor shortages and never given the proper return for their efforts. According to our source, the university is in dire circumstances and is not functioning in full capacity because of the severe strains of the food shortage where educational expenses and cafeteria food were subsidized by the state. So much for the flourishing academic life they claim to have provided for women. Moreover, many women are not able to work at full capacity because of malnutrition.

According to our source, women are in the worst physical condition due to the food shortages. Officials have called for a thrifty running of the household," in the party newspaper. Perhaps what is meant by a "thrifty running" of the household where it is not uncommon for women to give their food to their husbands and children and go without proper nourishment leading to anemia and illness.

Not surprisingly, according to our source, there is only one woman minister in the government, which bans women's movements. All top-level posts are filled by males and ,needless to say, women do not have an equal voice in high-level decision-making.

The article also emphasized the importance of bearing as many children as possible, and it called for women to be at the vanguard of revolutionizing the home, "... in order to ensure that women participate actively in society and to have them bear many healthy children." However, because of the severe malnutrition, many children and women are dying during the child birth process, perhaps up to 20%. Moreover, they are forced to stay in the hospital for several days after labor, often in dirty conditions without adequate heat in winter time. Like food, medicines are in short supply. Because open rebellion by women is not allowed, they are silently opposing the government by having only one, or perhaps two, children. Interestingly, boys tend to be more malnourished than are girls.

Whereas South Korea adopted maternity protection-related laws in the 1980s, North Korea has had 90-day maternity leaves since the 1960s. Since 1985, the leave became longer, to 130 days, and female defectors say they usually received this paid leave. However, this does them little good if they are not receiving adequate food and medical care. North Korean men, similar to those in the South, take little part in sharing household chores compared to their western counterparts." As with every other downturn in economics or shortages, the women  in North Korea are suffering most. To help them, get in touch with the Korean Embassy in your area and ask if you can donate to their Women's Federation, which is the one organization they do have, albeit ineffectual.