North Korea: Women Facing Harsh New Pressures

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North Korea: Women Facing Harsh New Pressures

Son Hyang-sun said she was tortured in North Korea for trying to defect. She now owns a fish shop in South Korea.

Photo credit: Jean Chung for The International Herald Tribune

Some of his Kim Jung Un's regime’s first policy moves in the economic sphere “were focused on re-enforcing controls” from the central government, according to a new paper by Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland for the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

They suggest that the regime could impose a return to a centrally planned economy, as we have seen before. Such a trend, which might well include a crackdown on the private shadow-economy markets that are predominantly run by women, “could have the effect of once again marginalizing North Korea’s women.”

Mr. Haggard and Mr. Noland report that disproportionate numbers of women are now being laid off from jobs at North Korea’s state-owned enterprises, as “working for the state is considered more politically advanced ‘man’s work.’ “

As a result, women have moved into markets, which are statutorily closed to men and operate quasi-legally in North Korea’s grudgingly hybrid economy. The regime views these markets — and the women who run them — with “an ambivalent if not actively hostile posture,” Mr. Haggard and Mr. Noland write.

“In other settings, this newfound freedom might be empowering,” they say, although the women traders have frequent run-ins with the police and the North’s harsh penal system. Bribing police officers and state officials is common. “In short, the increasingly male-dominated state preys on the increasingly female-dominated market.”

Read the complete story in The International Herald Tribune, published 25 June 2012.

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