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How Can North Korea Have Gender Equality Without Basic Human Rights?

North Korean government liaisons have claimed that there is gender equality and equal rights for women within its borders, but how can this be so, within a nation that boasts some of the most grotesque human rights violations in the world?  

In a recent radio interview with scholars of women’s rights and North Korean studies, hosted by Global Journalist on January 4th, the question at hand was whether or not North Korea’s treatment of women is as equal as they claim. As many outsiders assume that the treatment of women in North Korea is equal to men, this assumption is usually based on the embellished ratio of men to women in the North Korean military, or the fact that many North Korean women tend have more financial freedom than their male counterparts, who are required to work for the military without compensation. But does this assumed equality in opportunities and financial freedom constitute an equal and just society for men and women in the nation? Not quite.

During the radio interview on Global Journalist, North Korean defector and founder of the group, North Korean Refugees in the USA, Jinhye Jo pokes a few holes in the popular assumptions of women’s equal rights, or “privileges,” within the nation. According to Jo, women only make up about 10 percent of the military in North Korea, and are only allowed into it under special circumstances. For women and their financial freedom within the country, this comes at a price; many women make money to help their families survive by becoming vendors, which usually requires them to cross over the border into China to obtain goods to sell. The practice of selling foreign goods in North Korea is dangerous and puts many women at risk.

North Korean women are increasingly vulnerable to domestic and gender-based violence within their homes, as well as within larger social institutions in the country. As many of the methods that women use to earn money to sustain their families are illegal, there is a culture around bribing governmental and military officials in order to carry on with their business. Because of this, North Korean women are at high risk to face violence against them by powerful men. There are many accounts of female citizens who recount being sexually harassed and assaulted by military personnel and have experienced physical abuse.

Many North Korean women are also significantly more vulnerable to experiencing sex trafficking following their escapes into China. Some North Korean refugees in China are smuggled into the country under the assumption that they will be aided in finding work and better living conditions. Many women find out later that those promises are fictitious and instead are sold off as brides to Chinese farmers or made to work as sex workers.

In an Independent UK article on the state of women’s rights in the Republic, it states, “After a regular review of Pyongyang’s record, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women voiced concern at rape or mistreatment of women in detention especially those repatriated after fleeing abroad.”

As a growing number of women are attempting to escape North Korea, the very real threat of being taken advantage of remains prevalent, both within and outside of North Korea’s borders.

We know that women’s rights are human rights, but how can there be equity and equality for women within a nation that has yet to care for the human rights of all of its people?

Featured Image by (stephan) on Flickr

Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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