“In the past, our husbands would bring home rations, and we’d live off that,” says Mrs. Kim. “Now there are no rations, and the women support the families. If we don’t make money, they starve, so life is hard for women.”
It’s no secret that in many nations women are outpacing men in education and the workplace, despite being paid less. Indeed, a continuing revision of gender roles seems to be occurring across a wide variety of cultures, often for varying reasons. Today’s npr.org features a story on women and the workplace in North Korea:
“Imagine going to work every day and not getting paid. Then, one day, you’re told there’s no work to do — so you must pay the company for the privilege of not working.
“This is the daily reality facing Mrs. Kim, a petite 52-year-old North Korean. Her husband’s job in a state-run steel factory requires him to build roads. She can’t remember the last time he received a monthly salary. When there are no roads to build, he has to pay his company around 20 times his paltry monthly salary, she says. ’He had to pay not to work for about six months of last year,’ Mrs. Kim told NPR, sighing. ‘You have to pay, even if you can’t afford to eat. It’s mandatory.’
“So she is the one who must keep the family alive, as her husband wrestles with this state-sanctioned extortion.
“Welcome to the Orwellian world of work in North Korea. In this reclusive country, profound social change is happening beyond the view of the outside world. The demands of politics have dramatically redrawn gender roles, forcing women to become the breadwinners. Five North Koreans visiting China spoke with NPR recently, offering a rare insight into how political dictates have had an extraordinary social impact in their own homes. All of them count among the elite, who have enough money to enter China legally and hope to return to their families in North Korea. Talking to foreign media is risky, so they are being identified only by their surnames.”