All-female units with the Korean People’s Army received their first ever orders from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, a military source told Daily NK on Dec. 20. Kim Yo Jong is the deputy director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK).

According to sources, this is a clear sign that Kim Yo Jong has taken over the role that Kim Jong Il’s younger sister, Kim Kyong Hui, once filled. It is also an indication that Kim, as befitting her “Mount Paektu lineage,” has assumed a more politically significant role in the regime.

BUILDING SOLIDARITY WITH FEMALE SOLDIERS

According to Daily NK sources in North Pyongan Province, Kim issued the order to the political divisions of all-female units on Dec. 17. The order told them to “remain alert to the working conditions and health of the female soldiers, and to extend them special consideration.”

Specifically, Kim instructed that military infirmaries prepare medical treatments for foot arch pain, including instructions for remedying the pain. She also stressed the need for regular inspections of anti-humidity devices in work sites such as the mine shafts to prevent various (unspecified) illnesses that affect female soldiers. 

The orders appear to be aimed at showing Kim’s solidarity with female soldiers and is part of a long history of the country’s female leaders appealing to women in the military. 

kim yo jong
Kim Yo Jong at a meeting with US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in 2018. / Image: US Department of State

North Korea’s first leader, Kim Il Sung, handled much of his regime’s efforts to appeal to female soldiers himself, but his son, Kim Jong Il, delegated these tasks to his younger sister, Kim Kyong Hui, and his wife, Ko Yong Hui.

For example, during her tenure as director of the WPK Light Industry Department, Kim Kyong Hui campaigned for improved conditions for female soldiers. She was also at the forefront of an increase in the quality of women’s products, and even received the affectionate nickname “The Mother of Pyongyang.”

KIM’S GROWING AUTHORITY 

Kim Yo Jong, however, has climbed the ranks much faster than other powerful women in North Korea. Kim Kyong Hui only stepped into her role in 1995 (at age 51). Kim Yo Jong, on the other hand, issued her first direct order within five years of appearing on the scene in 2014. 

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service told the National Assembly in June this year that Kim Yo Jong’s status “had risen to a leadership role” and that “due to her redefined role, she has become a more significant figure.” Kim Yo Jong also accompanied her brother, Kim Jong Un, and his military chiefs on a recent ascent up Mount Paektu. 

The military’s female soldiery, for their part, appear to welcome Kim’s growing authority. Some female soldiers have said that “Comrade Kim Yo Jong is continuing the noble tradition of Comrade Kim Kyong Hui and the Mother of Pyongyang,” according to sources.

High-level military officials have also demonstrated a willingness to carry out Kim’s commands. According to sources, they have instituted daily inspections of both basic necessities and whether various appliances are operating normally. Moreover, some units have even set aside 15 minutes before bedtime to focus on foot arch pain treatments, sources said.

*Translated by Violet Kim

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Jeong Tae Joo is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. He focuses on North Korean military matters. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.