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Defector's story

Role reversal on Women's Day in North Korea

Kim Ji Seung  |  2017-03-10 22:58
March 8 was International Women's Day. In North Korea, the day is designated as a national holiday known as 3.8 (March 8th) Womens Day in order to promote the status of women. Female North Korean defectors mostly remember the day as a pleasant one. The holiday guidelines officially suggest that North Korean men take an 'opportunity to experience the housework.'

The authorities suggest that North Korean men help out around the house on the day, as men are not typically involved in housework. Even during times of widespread famine when women took up the role as primary breadwinners, household labor was still believed to be a woman's job, and men who shared the work were perceived as being 'enlightened.' However, as the number of residents doing business has increased due to the development of marketization, more and more men have begun to think that they should at least do the housework on 3.8 Women's Day.

Kim Sung Kyung (alias, aged 40) who defected in 2012 told Daily NK, "The number of men who help with household labor has certainly increased. Particularly on 3.8 Women's Day, women who are tired of working at the market are allowed to rest or have fun. For female officials at state enterprises, their male co-workers often cover their shifts so that they can take a break.

Presents are also sometimes part of the equation, she said, though still limited to wealthy circles. More broadly, the culture of gift-giving is still not pervasive. I used to think that it was enough for men without money to just be submissive to their wives for a day, she said.

Park Ae Suk (alias, aged 35), who defected in 2015, added, "On the holiday, housewives living in cities usually participate in various events to enjoy themselves, eating and drinking. Some working women receive small gifts from their male co-workers."

However, although many men help their wives on 3.8 Women's Day, in most cases, the dynamic between husband and wife is said to be still perceived as that of 'the strong and the weak' rather than real equality.

"I have seen a lot of men return to their brusque selves after being nice to their wives on 3.8 Women's Day. That is the nature of North Korean men. Gender equality in North Korea is still a far-fetched notion," Park said.

"As the Kim Jong Un regime is emphasizing the love for the father (leader), the idea of 'predominance of man over woman' is likely to remain. Marketization has certainly changed the traditional perception of gender roles, but it will not be easy for women to make inroads against the historically patriarchal system, a high-ranking North Korean defector commented on condition of anonymity.

"The authorities claim that parity is part and parcel to life in North Korea, but of course that doesnt exist in a dictatorship. Within an already discriminatory environment, North Korean women continue to suffer. 

*Translated by Yejie Kim
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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