|Gender Equality - A Lip Service|
Gender Equality - A Lip Service
by an unnamed North Korean defector
North Korea has always celebrated July 30 each year as the day of gender equality since 1946. All the North Korean news media unanimously declare that women have been liberated from home and treated equally as men in all walks of life. In reality, however, women have remained bound by traditional yokes of inequality.
Speaking of family life, most men attempt to rule women. They never help women with housework but always give orders. On the other hands, women are the first to suffer from food shortage, for example, and expected to serve her continued on regular basis until the 80's comprise 50% rice and 50% grain. It was generally said at that time that the rice is for men and grain for women in the family.
The inequality is not limited to homes. Women receive fewer emoluments for the same work with men in government offices and factories. The pay scale of the cooperative farm is a typical case. Officially, women get only 80% of what men get for the same hours and type of work accomplished.
In fact, it is women who carry most farm work in the cooperatives. Men are usually spared from hard work under the assignments of a team leader, water supply officer or mechanics. In other words, most backbreaking work is performed predominantly by women, not by men. Nevertheless, men get more than women do.
Rural women in North Korea indeed deserve pity. They have to work hard at factories during the daytime like men and have to do additional hard work at the end of day's work in ill-equipped kitchens to prepare meals for the family. Each rural household in North Korea is obliged to produce a pig a year for the army for nothing. It goes without saying that the work of raising a pig is for women. If you fail to produce a pig of standard weight, your food ration is accordingly reduced.
All these backbreaking hard work for women in North Korea make me think what is the real meaning of the lip-service celebration since 1946 of Women's Liberation or Gender Equality. These slogans changed in the 60's to revolutionalization of family, revolutionalization of women, and promotion of women to working class. I am now convinced that the hidden purpose of the slogans was to merely serve the purpose of extracting cheap labor from women for the development of socialism industry.
The housewives at home are not exception. They are obliged to participate in social labor programs several times a year. The social work means free work for collecting plants for decomposition, rice planting or harvesting. Often, they are mobilized to factories or government offices for free work.
The people's living conditions, which began to deteriorate in the 80's, became worse in the 90's. Widespread starvation began. The difficulties to obtain food, clothing and house have made the lives of women more painful and difficult. This was because it was generally considered that it is women's responsibility to feed the family.
North Korea is a socialist country that is supposed to be responsible for the supply of daily necessities to its people. This does not mean that everyone gets equal distribution. The people are divided into four classes for the different kinds and quantities of rations. The first class comprises senior party members and close associates of Kim Jung Il and is entitled to daily ration of meat, cooking oil, fruits, vegetables and cigarettes. The second class people(central party members, high government officials and high ranking military officers and etc.)are entitled to a weekly ration. The third class people (junior members of party, families of anti-Japanese guerilla fighters, honorable title holders and etc.) are entitled to a ration every other week. The food ration includes 1~6 kilograms of meat, 1~8 kilograms of fish, 30 eggs and 30 cartons of cigarettes. Ordinary people under class four receive rice ration fortnightly. The quantity of ration differs according to the social status, occupation and age. The standard per capita per day food ration, including both rice and grains, is 450 grams for ordinary works, 300 grams for dependent family, 400 grams for senior high school students and 600 grams for soldiers and 120 grams for children under 3 and old people. The full 15 day ration is not enough for the ordinary people under class 4. If you take three meals a day, the ration will be exhausted in about a week. The ration will be enough for 15 days only if you eat porridge. You can imagine how hard the life of ordinary North Korean would be when the already insufficient food ration has been erratic and discontinued.
You can get food in black markets. The price, however, is simply prohibitive. An average salary for a worker is 60~70 won and is only enough to buy one kilogram of rice. In summary, nobody can survive in North Korea on official salaries.
Then, how do they survive? Everyone, high class, middle class or low class, is engaged in some kind of commercial activities in one way or another. Officials abuse their power to extract income from ordinary people. The life of ordinary people is difficult and miserable beyond descriptions.
Under the circumstances, the women in North Korea are compelled to do anything within their means for survival. Women pick up household items of any value for exchange for bean, barley and corn becuase the prices of grains often vary by areas. They buy grains with the money earned from the sale to feed family. Often they barter their items for food.
They need travel pass to take trains or to travel anywhere outside their village or town. The pass is obtainable for a bribe of 300 to 400 won. One will be fined if caught traveling without a travel pass.
Public means of transportation are in real bad shape. Trains rarely arrive and depart on time. The trains are always packed up to the entrance that it is extremely difficult to get inside. Often, they use windows for entering or leaving. Once you are inside, often you can not move your body for hours, and sometimes, for day. Some men climb up to the top of the trains for travel. At your destination, you don't find any bus and you have to walk a long distance before you find anybody who might be interested in your item. You might have to walk 2~3 kilometers with a load of 30~40 kilograms of food. You might be robbed of your food on the train or in black market by the police under the excuse that commercial transaction is the first step to capitalism. Like their mother and mother's mother, women in North Korea today live a most miserable life of fatigue, endless back-braking work and despair.