There is little understood about the real plight of women in North Korea because information from this totalitarian state is extremely limited. Here are a few things we know: their role in Korean society had been one of tending the family and serving the husband, who would most likely be a farmer. This was the state of things for hundreds of years. Also, before the communist take-over and separation of the North and South, traditional Korea had little to offer women by way of formal education. Christian missionaries were the first to set-up schools where all girls could come and learn until finally, in 1908, the government opened its first public school.
Japanese colonialism lasted from 1910-1945. During this time Korean women experienced gigantic social change, like the rest of the world. Many moved away from their families to the cities, taking jobs in the manufacturing sectors and sending money home to support their families. Working conditions and extremely long hours left them unhappy. However, other women took ‘upwardly mobile’ husbands and participated in a growing art and cultural scene. They helped bring Korea into a more internationalist, modern place.
In the mean time, life in the rural areas did not change quite as much. But it was in these rural villages where movements to eradicate illiteracy began and the people running these movements brought in communist doctrine. The young students began rallying around Stalinism. (http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/northkorea/2009/08/05/45/0401000000AEN20090805006500325F.HTML )
As we know, the communists finally took over the government. They promised equality for women and laws were changed to make room for them in the work place, they were allowed 70 days to stay home with new babies while still receiving pay…etc. It sounds identical to the promises of Democratic Socialists today. Also, the new government encouraged women to join organizations like Korean Women’s Socialist League, to re-enforce what the government wanted them to know. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_Women%27s_Socialist_League)
The history of what brought Korean women to the place they are now is one of many nuances. Yet, theirs is a not unfamiliar story. A rural country coming into its own becomes derailed by a body of people spreading the politics of envy. Except it always begins at ‘everyone should have the same’ but ends with ‘you will have the same and nothing more, or else.’
They were promised equal pay and position, but today North Korean women earn far less than their male counterparts. And as the economy improved, women were needed less in the work place and ended up back home in their traditional roles.
Then the famine of the 1990’s hit. Government employees had been used to receiving rations from the government Distribution System, not unlike our food stamp program. But when that stopped families became desperate. Men, even though they were not getting paid by the cash-strapped government, still had to go to work. The communist government could not survive without free (slave?) labor. The practice continues to this day. It’s incredible to us, but in order to obtain a more profitable job, a man must pay his government employer up to 30 times his regular salary. If the payment isn’t made then that can mean jail time.
Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans died in the famine. As a result, the country has developed a huge, burgeoning black market, where the new, ‘empowered women’ oversee back door businesses of services and products, based on supply and demand in order to survive.
Reports from 2011 said that starvation was again a way of life. Then other organizations tell a different story. Too bad they didn’t insist on things like freedom of speech, the press, assembly…Listen: in North Korea, the law says you don’t even get to decide your own hairstyle. True. (http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/02/25/these-are-north-koreas-28-state-approved-hairstyles/)
North Korean women are now regular victims of domestic abuse as the government regulations leave men feeling emasculated. The safety in the work place once promised has been replaced with promotion via sexual favor. Like several other places, North Korea bought the scam.
So with threats of war on the horizon one wonders, since both men and women do the fighting, would we be facing people who so love their country that they’ll do anything to bring down the rest of the world? Do they secretly hope Trump will drop a bomb on their chubby little leader? Or…will they fight because they have nothing to lose? That could make them the most formidable enemy of all.