Children of course are a strong concern when working with North Korean refugees in South Korea. Now, I want to focus on the female North Korean defectors.

North Korean women make up nearly 70 percent of the defectors here in South Korea. Leaving the North where they are brutalized, starved, and at times sold to Chinese husbands, the issue of women’s rights in the North is a devastating issue.

After leaving such hardships in the North, women arrive in South Korea will little confidence. Entering with little or limited education, the type of work allotted to this cohort is one of menial labor. Not to mention the gender bias held here in the South in which women are paid less. South Korea has the highest gender wage gap of all OECD countries according to the latest data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. This further affects North Korean refugee women as they work to support themselves and create a better life.

In a recent survey conducted by the Korea Hana Foundation, six out of ten North Korean defectors consider themselves to be lower class based on their economic activities.

This is exactly what Lee So-yeon is working on as head of the New Korea Women’s Union. A female North Korean defector herself, she fully understands the plight of the female defector and what it takes to be successful in the South. She hosts talks at schools and organizations to speak about human rights violations against women in the North. The New Korea Women’s Union also offers job training and psychological counseling for defectors. Union membership has reached roughly 300 members.

She arrived in South Korea in 2008 after failing her first attempt. She was imprisoned after her first attempt where she learned more about the defection process as well as North Korean people’s reasons for wanting to defect to the South. She now works as a broadcast personality and North Korean refugee advocate.




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