Women in North Korea from 2000: An Analysis of Changes to Gendered Norms since the Economic Crisis and Famine

Radford, Olivia Anne (2018) Women in North Korea from 2000: An Analysis of Changes to Gendered Norms since the Economic Crisis and Famine. Masters thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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There has been considerable research on women’s new economic roles since the famine of the 1990s in North Korea. These previous studies have provided less analysis of women in education and their roles in the formal economy. This work intends to contribute to knowledge by presenting an analysis of whether women’s new economic roles represent a change to gendered norms in multiple areas of women’s lives. Gendered norms are defined as the societal expectations that in this context are placed upon women. This study is important as it offers an understanding of the current state of gender relations within the DPRK and how the situation can improve for women. This study focuses on North Korean women’s roles within the family, education participation and both informal and formal work roles since the year 2000. This study first analysed data from before the famine including the speeches of Kim Il Sung and work statistics to conclude that while women were officially equal with men, women continued to shoulder domestic responsibilities and dominate in lower-paid work fields. The study then analysed census data, North Korean media articles, United Nations gender reports and interviews with North Korean defectors which suggests that there have been some changes to gendered norms. Women are becoming more financially responsible in the home and there are some indications that men are beginning to support women in the home. Other areas have shown fewer improvements. The data shows that women’s formal work roles continue to follow similar trends to before the famine. Women continue to make up the majority of those in light-industry and primary teaching roles, and significantly less managerial, science and political roles. The number of women in higher education has also shown limited growth. These findings suggest that both the economic crisis and the limited efforts by the state may have restricted the ability of women to perform outside the informal economy or limit their progression within the formal economy.

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