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Jieun Baek, author of the book North Korea’s Hidden Revolution, told the BBC, “The famine in North Korea resulted in a particularly vulnerable period for women in North Korea. More women had to enter the labor force and more were subject to mistreatment, particularly harassment and sexual violence.” In Lee’s case, starting working life meant joining the army.

Baek counsels that evidence from defectors needs to be handled with circumspection. She points out, “There is such a high demand for knowledge from North Korea. It almost incentivizes people to tell exaggerated tales to the media, especially if that comes with [a] nice pay check.”

UIJU, NORTH KOREA – OCTOBER 11: A female North Korean soldier stands guard on the banks of the Yalu River, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong October 11, 2006 in Uiju, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. China could face an influx of North Korean refugees with an expected cut in already diminishing aid and investment following Pyongyang’s announced nuclear test, a US refugee aid group has warned.

“Many defectors who don’t want to be in the media are very critical of ‘career defectors,’” Baek continued. “It’s worth keeping this in focus.” But in the case of Lee, Baek says her story fits in with other accounts. And as the BBC did not pay Lee for her interview, it lends her account added plus AAA credibility.

Lee So Yeon’s first bid to defect in 2008 ended when she was arrested at the Chinese border. She served a year in a prison camp. But she succeeded on her second attempt, swimming the Tumen River to China before finally ending up in South Korea. Now Lee works with the New Korea Women’s Union, an organization dedicated to publicizing & exposing the plight of women in Kim Jong-un’s oppressive one-party state.

www.crimefiles.net

Female North Korean soldiers stand at a fence near Pyongyang on April 12, 2012. North Korea’s five-day window to launch a rocket opened with Asian countries on alert, as Washington told G8 world powers that the communist state was in flagrant violation of a UN ban.

In theory at least, the North Korean Army takes a serious view of rape. Anyone found guilty of the offense can be jailed for up to seven years. According to Juliette Morillot, though, the reality is much different. “Most of the time nobody is willing to testify,” she told the BBC. “So men so often go unpunished.”

Shockingly, female soldiers also had to put up with gross sexual harassment, including rape. Although Lee says she was not raped, many others were. “The company commander would stay in his room at the unit after hours and rape the female soldiers under his command,” she told the BBC. “This would happen continually over and over without an end.”

Meanwhile, the promise of bountiful food that had lured Lee into the armed forces was not all that it had seemed. Although there was a mouthwatering menu posted on the mess hall wall, it was far from the reality. “It was brilliant. Meat and tofu and those little rice cakes – and it changed throughout the week,” Lee remembered. “In reality, we just got bowls of rice with a little corn, over and over… I was always hungry.”

A woman in traditional Korean dress holds a dish of the Korean national dish Kimchi on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Cooperation (APEC) summit in Busan 16 November 2005. Asia Pacific leaders are set to tickle their tastebuds at a royal banquet here with the fiery taste of kimchi washed down by goblets of mushroom wine.

Lee recalled other details of her military service in an interview with The World. “I slept in a female barracks with about 30 other women,” she said. “We all slept on bunk beds. Each of us had a little cabinet with photos of [North Korea’s founder] Kim Il-sung and [his now deceased heir] Kim Jong-il on top.”

North Korean soldiers march during a mass military parade at Kim Il-Sung square in Pyongyang on October 10, 2015. North Korea was marking the 70th anniversary of its ruling Workers’ Party.

And when any of the women did menstruate, they were left to fend for themselves by the North Korean Army. Lee says that women on their periods frequently had no choice but to reuse sanitary towels. And some bases had no women’s toilets, denying the recruits the most basic of privacy.

Lee remembered, “After six months to a year of service, we wouldn’t menstruate any more because of malnutrition and the stressful environment. The female soldiers were saying that they are glad that they are not having periods. […] Because the situation is so bad if they were having periods too that would have been worse.”

North Korean female soldiers march during a military parade to mark 100 years since the birth of the country’s founder Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012. The commemorations came just two days after a satellite launch timed to mark the centenary fizzled out embarrassingly when the rocket apparently exploded within minutes of blastoff and plunged into the sea.

As well as these domestic duties, Lee and her comrades were subjected to rigorous physical training and drill regimes. Indeed, so grueling were the demands on the young recruits that many actually stopped having periods. Physical exertion, stress and poor diet combined to take a terrible toll on the young recruits.

Korean People’s Army (KPA) soldiers march on Kim Il-Sung sqaure during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung, in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017.

French author Juliette Morillot is a pro. on North Korea. She told the BBC, “North Korea is a traditional male-dominated society and traditional gender roles remain. Women are still seen as ttukong unjeongsu, which just translates as ‘cooking pot lid drivers,’ and means that they should ‘stay in the kitchen where they should be.’”

Lee was only 17 when she joined the army, and initially she was content with her new life. Small things, like the fact that she was given a hairdryer, were a real bonus. Unfortunately, though, regular power outages meant it was all but useless. And she discovered that women were expected to do domestic tasks like cooking and cleaning, while this was not required of the males.

www.handyhomehints.com

www.newcures.info

Henry Sapiecha

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