Past Series >Defector's story
Skirt Decree Brings Hardship and Annoyance to Women
Yoo Gwan Hee, from South Pyungan in 2008 | 2009-07-22 10:03
This news article unfurled the Kim Jong Il decree stating, “The character of a nation appears in the language, etiquette, and morals as well as attire. Especially, women’s traditional clothes, a traditional skirt and jacket, are our pride in the world. We should positively encourage women to wear them.”
Whenever a decree urging women to wear traditional clothes or skirts is handed down, as it is almost every year, North Korean women cannot avoid an awkward and aggravating situation.
Korean traditional clothes, especially a woman’s skirt and jacket, are really beautiful on special days such as traditional holidays, weddings, elections, or national events requiring the offering of flowers before a statue of Kim Il Sung.
However, for women who are responsible for their families’ livelihoods, on every other day it is nothing but an extravagance.
In the jangmadang or informal alley markets, women have to carry luggage twice the size of their bodies, display them on street-stands, struggle to sell them all day long and, on the occasions when community watch guards come to regulate the jangmadang, they have to swiftly run away with their goods in tow. On a lucky day when a train carrying coals passes by, they gather along the railroad to collect falling pieces of coal. For those busy women, working hard in a tough situation, wearing elegant traditional long skirts is nonsensical.
In summer, the authorities hand down a decree demanding that skirts are worn without condition, getting university students or community watch guards to check the dress of women at every corner in the mornings.
Some women bring skirts in their bags just so as to avoid skirt-inspection on the streets. Others wear pants under skirts and fold the legs up to their knees.
Many people must go to work on foot because buses are not common. During the long walk to work, skirts-inspections inevitably get on women’s nerves.
Here is one woman’s story:
She was walking to her workplace in pants when a community watch guard caught sight of her, asking, “Why didn’t you wear a skirt?” She replied to him, “I have my skirt in my bag, but I was too busy to wear it. I will wear it right here.”
Then, the agent said, “Why didn’t you carry out the handwritten decree directly signed by Him (Kim Jong Il)? Didn’t you know that you have to pay a fine unless you follow it? Report your name and place of work so that I can report it to the municipal Party Committee.”
She had heard from the Party secretary in her workplace, “If you are caught during the skirt inspection, you will be criticized in the municipal Party Committee and your failing will be made public on the third cable broadcast.” So she bribed him and made a close escape from an embarrassing situation.
Ms. Kim, a 35-year old from Saebyeol, North Hamkyung Province who talked with Daily NK yesterday by telephone answered the question of whether the skirt inspections are particularly strong these days, saying, “If they didn’t do such crazy things, Chosun (North Korea) would change hundreds of times over. Now, they get 700 (North Korean) won when we are caught. We don’t know if the 700 won-fine goes to the authorities, the People’s Safety Agency or into the agent’s pocket.”
She criticized the ridiculous regulation, “They think we don’t know how to wear skirts? We are busy trying to survive in this nation 24/7, and of what use is a skirt? If we lived in a situation where we could afford to wear pretty skirts, would we refuse?”
Occasionally, the decree, “Women should not ride bicycles!” also comes down. It is little more than a decree to starve to death the North Korean women. Skirt inspections are just one more example of a nonsense decree.