(Seoul, April 14, 2017) – North Korea is betraying the pledge to protect the rights of women and girls and promote gender equality made by its former leader and “perpetual” president, Kim Il-Sung, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch is publishing the full text of its March 2017 submission to the United Nations Committee to End Discrimination Against Women as a somber counterpoint to Kim Il-Sung’s birthday on April 15, which North Koreans celebrate as the country’s most important national holiday.
During his rise to power, Kim Il-Sung publicly pledged to empower and promote equality for women, calling them “a powerful driving force that pushes one side of the wheels of the cart of the revolution.”
“On Kim Il-Sung’s birthday, the world should remember just how severe the North Korean government’s abuses against women are, and not be distracted by the annual camera-ready propaganda parade in Pyongyang where women wear fancy colorful dresses, perform public dances, and shout meaningless slogans of praise for a dead leader,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The harsh reality is that every day North Korean women face severe gender discrimination at work and home, and sexual harassment and violence that the authorities do nothing to stop.”
Human Rights Watch’s submission to the committee's pre-sessional working group meeting ahead of its 68th session review of North Korea between October and November 2017 detailed discrimination and exploitation, as well as physical and sexual violence faced by women and girls in North Korea. North Koreans who recently escaped from the country or keep in regular contact with people still in North Korea told Human Rights Watch that women and girls face gender-based discrimination starting from childhood at school, work, and home. They also said women frequently face violence from men at home, in public spaces, including the market, and there is virtually no official recourse or protection mechanisms for victims.
A total of 26 North Koreans spoke with Human Rights Watch about the deeply patriarchal nature of North Korean society today. They said that women and girls in North Korea are constantly exposed to and forced to comply with gender stereotyped roles that foster acceptance of acts of violence against women, and cast blame for violence on female victims themselves.