38 North: North Korean Women – Markets and Power

[From time to time CanKor will alert our readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article is an interview conducted and translated by Janice Lee, a researcher at the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights in Seoul, and Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, a Swedish economics and political science student at Stockholm University. Please follow our links to this article on the 38North site. –CanKor.]

North Korean Women: Markets and Power By 38 North

Researchers, diplomats, tourists, and defectors have all spoken of gradual changes in recent years to the complicated role women play in North Korean society. Andrei Lankov, a scholar at Kookmin University in Seoul, points out that women are able to play a dominant role in the black markets that emerged during the famine of the 1990s because they come under less scrutiny than men in the North’s patriarchal society.[1] Some scholars have also argued that the increasing flow of information from abroad is changing the way North Korean women dress, behave, and regard themselves, setting the stage for major changes in the country’s social dynamics.

A picture of a woman dressed in a western suit walking down a city street would usually be of little interest. But when that street is in Pyongyang, imaginations tend to run wild, contemplating what the image may reveal about North Korea’s closed off society. (Photo: Irina Kalashnikova)

However, North Korean defector Hyun In-ae has cautioned against overstating the significance of these changes for women in the North. A former professor at Chongjin University, Hyun fled the country in 2004 after her husband was arrested by North Korea’s infamous State Security Agency. She is now working on a Ph.D. in North Korean studies at Ehwa Women’s University in Seoul, and heads the North Korean Intellectuals’ Society, an organization of North Korean intellectuals who defected to the South.

38 North met with Dr. Hyun earlier this month to get her insights about the status of women both in the DPRK and in the defector community in the South. (Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.) …Read More

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