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Working Paper 12-11

Gender in Transition: The Case of North Korea

by Stephan Haggard, University of California, San Diego
and Marcus Noland, Peterson Institute for International Economics

June 2012

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This paper uses a survey of 300 North Korean refugees to examine the experience of women in North Korea's fitful economic transition. Like other socialist states, North Korea has maintained a de jure commitment to women's rights. However, the authors find that women have been disproportionately shed from state-affiliated employment and thrust into a market environment characterized by weak institutions and corruption. As a result, the state and its affiliated institutions are increasingly populated by males, and the market, particularly in its retail aspects, is dominated by women. Among the most recent cohort of refugees to leave North Korea, more than one-third of male respondents indicate that criminality and corruption is the best way to make money, and 95 percent of female traders report paying bribes to avoid the penal system. In short, the increasingly male-dominated state preys on the increasingly female-dominated market. These results paint a picture of a vulnerable group that has been disadvantaged in North Korea's transition. Energies are directed toward survival, mass civil disobedience is reactive, and as a group, this population appears to lack the tools or social capital to act collectively to improve their status.


RELATED LINKS

Book: Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea January 2011

Peterson Perspective: North Korea's Immunity to Outside Pressure: Part I December 12, 2012

Policy Brief 10-1: The Winter of Their Discontent: Pyongyang Attacks the Market January 2010

Working Paper 10-2: Economic Crime and Punishment in North Korea March 2010

Paper: FTAs and the Future of US-Korean Trade Relations November 2009

Paper: Implementing the KORUS FTA: Key Challenges and Policy Proposals February 2008

Policy Brief 08-6: North Korea on the Precipice of Famine May 2008

Policy Brief 07-7: The Korea-US Free Trade Agreement: A Summary Assessment August 2007

Policy Brief 06-4: Negotiating the Korea–United States Free Trade Agreement June 2006

Working Paper 07-7: North Korea’s External Economic Relations August 2007

Book: Avoiding the Apocalypse: The Future of the Two Koreas June 2000

Book: Free Trade Between Korea and the United States? April 2001

Working Paper 08-4: Migration Experiences of North Korean Refugees: Survey Evidence from China March 2008