Women Defectors Torn by Both Sides
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Women Defectors Torn by Both Sides
  • 임리영 기자
  • 승인 2005.09.01 00:00
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▲ Women defectors are tormented by patriarchal husbands in the North and are humiliated by society in the South. [Illustration by Kim Ji-sun]

   Every year, more and more refugees from the North make their way to what they hope will be a better life in South Korea. And increasingly, more and more of them are women. But, many of these women face difficulties in the South that are similar to those they tried to escape from.
   Since 2002, the number of North Korean women defectors has outnumbered that of men. Data from the Citizen's Alliance for North Korean Human Rights state that there were 6,300 women defectors living in the South in December 2004. According to Lim Soon-hee, Senior Research Fellow in the Center for North Korean Human Rights, most women flee for reasons other than starvation. "It is always women who become sacrificed in impoverished regions and are in charge of both the housework and the bread-winning," said Lim. "In addition to  burdensome responsibilities and labor, women in the North are often sexually harassed by their partners. Thus, the primary reason for escaping is a hunt for a living standard that ensures that they are humans," she added.
   Unfortunately, the North Korean women who flee their nation in search of freedom and better lives often face discrimination and humiliation from South Korean society. Escapees from the North are often seen as inferior and ignorant, and such pessimistic perceptions are especially serious for women. Women from the North are also frequently seen as sexually promiscuous or selfish beings who leave their families behind in order to pursue self interest.
   These prejudices mean that life in the South can be extremely tough for these women. "Although I was thankful to have successfully entered the South at first, it is hard to make a living in a place where prejudice against defectors exists," said one, who preferred to remain anonymous. Because the citizens from the North are mostly viewed as victims and beneficiaries, she explained that it was almost impossible for women from the North to mingle with people in the South. Also, she said, lack of knowledge and skills prevents North Korean women from acquiring jobs. "The government currently is short of institutes such as Hanawon that can teach defectors technical skills," she said.
   To a certain extent, private organizations are trying to step in and take up some of the burden. For example, the group Alternative Culture is holding a camp during the first weekend of September to help eradicate misconceptions.
   Despite recent efforts, the government still needs to protect both the personal rights and safety of women from the North. An official from the Commission to Help North Korea Refugees said, "Many of the defectors still shun publicity and are living under horror. Thus, it is crucial for the whole Korean community to cooperate and heal such wounds of these scarred souls."


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