There is growing discontent in Hyesan following the forced mobilization of members of the Socialist Women’s Union of Korea (SWUK) for construction projects, Daily NK has learned. 

“The district office and SWUK office in Hyesan’s Unchong Village was recently ordered by the government to have local residents participate in road construction, building apartments, construction work in Samjiyon, and on [unspecified] historical sites,” a Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK on June 2. “This has led to heavy complaints from women who are being forced to work on these projects everyday.”

There is no getting out of the mobilizations for construction work,” the source said, adding, “If you are physically unwell or unable to work, you have to pay a financial penalty.”

With the closure of the Sino-North Korean border due to COVID-19 and fewer sources of income than before, it has reportedly become more difficult for many women to pay out bribes to avoid forced mobilizations. 

Women in Uchong Village are reportedly being asked to work on construction projects one or twice a week until their completion and everyone is having a “tough time,” the source said. 

A WOMAN’S BURDEN

Complaints have also been raised by women in other parts of Hyesan who have been roped into all kinds of forced labor. 

“There are differences in how people are mobilized depending on the area,” the source told Daily NK. “In the Songbong area of Hyesan, for example, they made it mandatory for a dependent in each household to work for ten days, so even women are being forced to work.”

This suggests that women are taking on the burden of working on state projects because their husbands cannot leave their regular jobs. 

Many North Korean women are responsible for housework while also supporting their families by selling goods at local markets. Being forced to work on construction projects means they have less time to make money for their families. 

The source explained that the complaints are focused on the government’s blindness to the circumstances women are facing.

“Many women are expressing their discontent, claiming that their households suffer when they are called away to work on projects for long periods of time. Some women are even avoiding state mobilizations when they can,” the source said. 

One major complaint is that many women rely on earning a small amount of money every day to live on and run their household, so it is impossible to make ends meet when they are called away from their families for ten days at a time to work on a construction project,” the source continued.

“No one is happy, since household work has to be left to the husband, children or elderly parents while the women are away,” he added. 

HEAVY-HANDED PUNISHMENT

North Korean authorities have adopted a heavy-handed approach to curbing open complaints against mobilizations and responding to cases where women have evaded forced labor outright. 

“Local district offices and the Ministry of State Security (MSS) [in Hyesan] have been investigating evasion vases and several women have been taken away by the MSS,” the source said. “They are forced to write down an apology, and threatened with violence or being sent to forced labor camps if they refuse.” 

Such written apologies are typically reserved for those accused of serious national crimes; perpetrators of smaller infractions are typically asked to prepare written reflections on their “mistakes.” 

Daily NK understands that SWUK members were mobilized for projects in Samjiyon in July of last year and again in March of this year (both link to articles in Korean). 

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

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Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.