Anti-discrimination committee calls on DPR Korea to ensure sufficient food for women, heed violence against them

Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
699th & 700th Meetings (AM & PM)

Expert Members Urge Government to Help Increase Political Participation by Women

As it took up the report of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea today, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women urged that country to ensure that women had sufficient food, to pay more heed to violence against them, and to increase their political participation.

Acting in their personal capacities, the Committee’s 23 expert members monitor compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, often referred to as an “international bill of rights for women”. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea ratified the Convention in 2001, with reservations on article 2 (on marriage age) and article 9 (on nationality).

Addressing the country’s food shortages, experts questioned how much food it was producing, how supplies were distributed, and whether women obtained enough for their families, especially in rural areas. They also pointed to conflicting media reports about hunger in the country, noting that some desperate women were crossing the border into China to obtain food and sometimes falling prey to traffickers on the way.

Responding to those concerns, a representative of the country’s delegation said food production for last year had fallen 900,000 tonnes short of domestic demand. To supplement that supply, the Government had assisted limited-acreage farmers with methods and seeds; introduced potato farming in mountainous areas; urged farmers to cultivate two crops a year, rather than one; and worked to mechanize agricultural work.

Ho O Bom, Director of the Legal Affairs Department at the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly and Chairman of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s National Coordination Committee for implementation of the Convention, who introduced the country’s report, added that the country was distributing food to supply centres countrywide under a rationing system based on need. Despite those efforts, however, recent research had shown that women were indeed entering China to seek food, many without adhering to the due legal formalities.

Focusing on violence against women, several experts lamented the report’s lack of statistical data on that phenomenon, stressing that violence must occur in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as it did in all others. One expert suggested that it may occur in the home, while never appearing in police records or in the courts, and urged the country to carry out research on its various forms, including spousal homicide.

Mr. Ho replied that research into domestic violence was already being carried out, although the practice was infrequent -- committed, for example, by drunken husbands -- and not considered a social danger. As for rape, the country did not generally view it within the family context, although the Convention included it as family violence. The National Committee could learn from that and the Democratic Republic would, in fact, welcome training and assistance on the Convention, as well as pamphlets or other information to increase awareness of it.

Turning to political participation by women’s, experts said the report indicated that it was low, and questioned how the country planned to increase the visibility of women in public life. Several of them pointed out that women were particularly absent in high-level judicial, economic, and diplomatic posts and urged the Government set up a quota system to increase their contribution in those areas.

Acknowledging that less than 10 per cent of the country’s judges were women, Mr. Ho said the Government was already considering a quota system, especially in civic courts and tribunals dealing with divorce. Another delegation member noted that women’s participation in the diplomatic corps was only 4.7 per cent, adding that the Government was working to correct that by raising university attendance by women to 40 per cent and increasing their knowledge of foreign languages. The country was still developing and a major obstacle to increased political participation by women was the domestic burden they carried at home. Another problem they faced was the stereotypical mindset regarding the traditional role of women, although they were more emancipated than they had been.

In concluding remarks, Committee Vice-Chairperson Hanna Beate Schöpp-Schilling noted that some of the country’s laws on gender equality needed updating, and also recommended that it lift its reservations, which went against its object and purpose. She also encouraged the country to include disaggregated statistics for various sections of the Convention in future reports, and to ratify its Optional Protocol.

Other members of the Korean delegation were Jong Yong Duk, Section Chief, Legislation Department, Presidium, Supreme People’s Assembly; and Hong Ji Sun, Secretary of the National Coordination Committee for CEDAW of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea.

Other participating members of the National Coordination Committee for the implementation of the Convention included: Han Chae Sun, Researcher, Institute of Public Health Administration; Pak Tok Hun, Section Chief, Foreign Ministry; Mun Jong Chol, Officer, Foreign Ministry; and Pak Kum Bok, Ri Kyong Ran, and Sin Song Chol, Permanent Mission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the United Nations.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m., on Wednesday, 20 July.


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to examine the initial report of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (document CEDAW/C/DPRK/1) on its compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), to which the country acceded in 2001. The report reviews developments in related legislation, gender stereotyping, political and public representation, education, employment, health, rural women and family life.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, with a population of 23 million, adopted a law on Sex Equality in 1946, the report states. The law was implemented to right the historic maltreatment of women under a feudal and later colonial system, and it not only gives women equal political and economic rights, but the policies and legislation of the State reflect the concept of attaching more importance to women, as they shouldered a heavy maternal burden.

According to the report, the Convention is directly applicable before the courts at all levels and if an aspect of it is not provided for in national legislation, then the principle is to make a judgment according to the Convention. A National Coordination Committee for the implementation of CEDAW has been established but to date the Committee has received little international training to that end and the Government believes officials would benefit from more opportunities for international training. Various legal procedures protect women against discrimination.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has entered two reservations against the Convention: against article 2(f), because the minimum marriage age is 17 years for girls and 18 for boys; and, against article 9(2) on nationality, because of concern over dual nationality in the case of a foreign citizen and a Democratic Korea citizen. The de facto equality of men and women is accelerated through preferential treatment of women and temporary special measures. Women account for over 70 per cent in the sectors of public health, commerce, child nursing and upbringing; 34 per cent in education, communication and culture; and 15 percent in industry, agriculture and construction. In Government, women are highly represented at the medium and low levels but account for only 10 per cent or so of higher officials in Government ministries and central organs. The Government is also paying special attention to the training of female diplomats, where their numbers remain lower than those of men. In order to increase that proportion, a quota of 30 per cent for women in all sectors has been instituted and the State has set up nurseries, kindergartens, medical and commercial service facilities in workplaces.

As for stereotyping, the report notes that discrimination remains based in part on outmoded customs and overall economic difficulties. The Government has taken steps to counter stereotyping through education and the mass media, as well as by affording preferential treatment of women through the law and policy. It has now been turned into a social trend and moral standard to respect women in all spheres of life. Trafficking in women and prostitution are regarded as shameful crimes and there have been no reports of such cases for many years.

Girls are ensured the same right to education as boys, the report states. At present, girls account for 48.7 per cent in primary and secondary schools, and 34.4 per cent in universities. Universal 11-year compulsory free education has been enforced since 1972 and universities are free as well. All education institutions are co-educational. In addition, a well organized vocational and technical education system is available. There is no illiteracy. Women are free in choice of employment in conformity with their expertise and aptitude. The State allocates female graduates of various schools to the jobs of their choice or places them temporarily in other positions until a vacancy is available.

The State enforces complete universal free medical care, but there was an imbalance in health service and benefits in some remote rural areas, the report says. No cases of HIV/AIDS have been reported. Rural women, who account for 39.8 per cent of the population, have not yet reached the level of urban women and are still under the heavy burden of physical labour. Women have full equality in civil law and before the courts, as well as full equality in marriage and family law.

Also before the Committee is a list of issues and questions compiled in a pre-session working group seeking further information on some aspects of the report (document CEDAW/PSWG/2005/II/CRP.1/Add.3). The responses to those questions are contained in document CEDAW/PSWG/2005/II/CRP.2/Add.3.

Introduction of Report

HO O BOM, Director of Legal Affairs Department at the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, introduced the report, saying the country had acceded to the Convention with the aim of thoroughly eliminating all forms of discrimination against women and further promoting their rights. The Government had established a National Coordination Committee to regularly monitor implementation of the Convention and harmonize the human rights system with international standards.

In preparing the report, the Government had discovered with pride that the basic requirements of the Convention had already been realized in various sectors. Women have firmly occupied their social positions and forcefully promote social and economic development. They enjoyed equal rights in the political, economic, labour and cultural sectors and had acquired more than secondary level education. They received reproductive, maternity and other health care under the compulsory education and free medical care systems.

Successive natural disasters in the mid-1990s had caused economic difficulties that had affected several areas such as education and public health, he continued. Even in such an emergency, the State tried to maintain its social benefits in those areas.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIC (Rapporteur), an expert from Croatia, asked whether the country report had been submitted to Parliament, considering the legislature’s large number of women. Some of its statistics were not sex disaggregated, which would be useful in future reports.

Turning to implementation of CEDAW, she asked if the Convention could be directly applied in the country’s courts, or whether it must be enforced through national laws. Did the definition of discrimination include “indirect discrimination”?

SALMA KHAN, an expert from Bangladesh, asked whether the country had updated its law on sexual equality and whether the principle of equality between men and women had been implemented in support services. Had the country reviewed its legislation to ensure that policies were in place to comply with CEDAW’s provisions?

HEISOO SHIN, an expert from the Republic of Korea, asked for information about women and poverty. How much food did the country produce, how much assistance did it need, and how much had been received? How was food distributed to ensure that women received what they needed for their families? Was it distributed at the workplace or to each household, and how was it portioned out in rural areas? Finally, how did the country ensure that women received the amount of food they needed?

CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, an expert from the Netherlands, asked what percentage of women sat on the country’s People’s Committees and how aware they were of CEDAW. Would the Government be training such Committees in the Convention’s provisions? If women received no satisfaction from those Committees on complaints, could they appeal to courts of law? Was the Government seeking international assistance in training the judiciary on implementation of the Convention?

SILVIA PIMENTEL, an expert from Brazil, noted that the report mentioned violence against persons, but paid little heed to violence against women, which quite probably existed in the country, although it was not visible in police records or before the courts. The phenomenon must be carefully researched.

HUGUETTE BOPKE GNACADJA, an expert from Benin, asked for more information on the make-up of the National Coordination Committee and noted that in the analysis of the Constitution vis-à-vis the Convention, some traditional discriminatory customs had been identified that required further work. What would the Government do to deal with them? Where the different marriage age for boys and girls considered part of the traditional practices?

Country Response

Mr. HO, replied that the National Coordination Committee had 17 members, who were initially mostly women. Later, in recognition of the importance of men’s attitudes, eight men were elected in 2003 elections. The focus of the Committee was implementation of the Convention and its dissemination among national bodies. The Committee had prepared the report with data collected by both governmental and non-governmental organizations.

The Convention had equal status with national legislation and the courts had the ability to apply it directly, he said. Any discrepancy was decided in the interests of the female party. While a concept of distinction between men and women remained, it was not considered to be on a discriminatory basis but a natural, non-value distinction.

Women had suffered terribly during feudal and colonial times, he said. The law on sexual equality attempted to redress their plight and reinstitute respect for women. They were given special benefits, such as working less hours for equal pay when they had more than three children. As for lingering discriminatory elements in social life, much improvement in social life was still necessary. Feudalism had existed for more than 2,000 years and the inferior role of women in that system was deeply rooted during that time. Remnants of outdated ideas endured somewhat, but they were passing with time and each new generation. Among the measures to be considered in that regard was the education of men regarding the stereotyping of women.

Regarding the difference in minimum marriage ages, he said it was according to the 1946 law on sexual equality, which reflected the custom of women marrying men older than themselves, as well as the perceived earlier physical and psychological maturity of girls. Although the law was not considered discriminatory, the legislative body had decided that it was incompatible with the Convention and so had proposed an amendment.

With respect to food, he said the Government distributed food to supply centres in all areas of the country. The idea was to supply enough food for each family, but due to shortages, a rationing system based on need had been introduced. Those who performed manual labour, for example, received more rice than those doing light work or students. Women did not fall into any specific category, but received food according to their work or age.

He added that the country was undergoing economic difficulties and food was short. The difficulties were due to natural disasters and the country’s budgetary allocation to the military so that it could remain prepared for future conflicts. As for where food was distributed, international organizations had been supplying food aid and sometimes stipulated whether it should go to rural or urban areas.

The National Coordination Committee had a plan to implement the Convention, with one of its major targets being the elimination of outmoded conceptions of women, he said. Regarding statistics, data from the country’s Central Statistics Bureau were not aligned with international organizations but efforts would be made to correct that problem.

Regarding CEDAW and the courts, he said the Convention’s provisions could be directly applied in the courts, which had settled divorce cases for women. For example, property division in divorce cases took place in courts according to the Convention. Property that had been possessed by one of the parties before the marriage went back to that party, and property acquired during the marriage was divided according to the Convention.

As for the composition of the Coordination Committee, it included some officials working in judicial and other law enforcement bodies, he said.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

FUMIKO SAIGA, an expert from Japan, asked about the position of the Coordination Committee within the national authorities. Was it separate from the executive ministries? Did it have any relationship with the Supreme Assembly? What was the relationship between the Coordination Committee and the People’s Committee at the local level?

KRISZTINA MORVAI, an expert from Hungary, asked for more information about the country’s legal system and the Convention. For example, how many CEDAW-related cases had the legal system dealt with over the past year? What type of cases had they been -- workplace problems, access to health care or other issues? What were the outcomes of those cases?

Turning to poverty, she asked why conflicting media reports had emerged on the scale of hunger in the country. What was the official response to such figures? How many women, men and children had died from hunger? How did women get food for their families?

Ms. ŠIMONOVIC asked if there were any strategies in place for follow-up to the Beijing Platform of Action and the Beijing Plus 5 Plan of Action. Was there a concrete case where CEDAW had been cited before the court? What were the remedies for cases in which discrimination had been established?

MAGALYS AROCHA DOMÍNGUEZ, an expert from Cuba, requested more information on the role of the People’s Committees at the local level, as they were the State organs for advancing the rights of women. How did the National Coordination Committee interact with local committees on how the Convention was being implemented? It was important for the National Coordination Committee to work more closely with the Committee for further training on implementation of the Convention.

VICTORIA POPESCU, an expert from Romania, commended the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for its timely report, despite all its economic difficulties. There was a need for assistance and training in the preparation of the next report, as well as implementation and dissemination of the Convention. Had the law on sexual equality been updated or amended since accession?

Country Response

Mr. HO replied that there had been cases of violence against women in the home by, for example, drunken husbands. In cases brought before the court, it had been decided that education for the man was required. Violence against women was not frequent and, therefore, not considered a social danger.

He said he would welcome training and assistance from the Committee regarding the Convention. Pamphlets to inform women would be helpful and there was a shortage of people who were well versed in the Convention.

The 1946 law on sexual equality, which was one of the first democratic reform laws, had not been amended, he said. The National Coordination Committee was an independent governmental body that worked closely with local councils. The national plan for the advancement of women covered a 10-year period, and the first part involved raising women’s participation in public life.

He said poverty of women was considered poverty of the family and separate statistics were not available. Many of the complaints and petitions by women centred on service and bureaucratic issues rather than violence or discrimination.

The decrease in life span was related to the poor economic situation in the country, he said. There were food and medical supply shortages, but as of 2000, the life span had started to increase again. As for women crossing over the border in search of food, the border was a narrow, easily crossed stream. In previous years Chinese relatives had crossed over and now Koreans were crossing over to see their relatives.

There were no prisoners per se in the country, he said. Rather there were labour reform institutions. The number of criminals was not necessarily in proportion to the population.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

NAELA GABR, an expert from Egypt, asked for statistics on the participation of women in public life, which the report had described as insufficient. How did the country plan to resolve that problem? Women’s participation was particularly low in high economic and technical posts, suggesting that their contribution to growth was inadequate. Women’s participation was also low in higher diplomatic posts, and the Government should set up a quota system for their contribution to public life.

Country Response

Addressing women’s political participation, a representative said the Government was working to increase their participation in the foreign service, noting that women made up only 4.7 per cent of the country’s entire diplomatic service. A major obstacle to their increased participation in that field was the domestic burden they carried in the home. Economically, the country was still developing, and women were still burdened by household concerns.

She said the Government was trying to increase women’s participation in diplomatic affairs by raising their university attendance to 40 per cent, and increasing their knowledge of foreign languages. Another problem women faced was the stereotypical mindset of their traditional role, although they were much more emancipated than they had been.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. MORVAI suggested it was time to carry out research on the different forms of violence against women, as that phenomenon existed everywhere in the world. Statistics on sexual violence and spousal homicide should be included as well. Was contraception and family planning also considered the responsibility of men?

MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, an expert from Malaysia, questioned the belief that customary discriminatory practices would disappear with technical advances and requested more information on the traditional view of men and women.

Ms. SAIGA asked for further details on eliminating stereotyping in the national plan. Exactly what was meant by “preferential treatment for women in law”?

Country Response

A representative replied that after liberation, in 1945, the law had sought to eliminate discrimination against women. But by custom men were considered to work outside the home and women within it. Now, though, women were taking part in social activities at unprecedented levels and husbands’ attitudes had changed. The awareness and attitudes of younger people were markedly different from those of the older generations.

Mr. HO said research into domestic violence was ongoing, although it was generally understood that couples divorced when violence occurred. As for rape, the country did not generally discuss it within the family context, but it had noticed that the Convention did and had revised its view.

Regarding public health, a representative said the country provided health protection for women, including free contraceptive services. According to a recent survey, more than 60 per cent of women were using contraception but very few men, and condoms now being introduced to correct that.

Acknowledging that less than 10 per cent of judges were women, he said the Government was considering a quota system to increase that proportion, especially in civic courts and tribunals dealing with divorce.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. SHIN asked whether any women had been included in the decision-making body for food distribution. Unemployed women received only 400 grams of rice; did the country plan to change that policy?

She also observed that women from crossing the border with China had fallen prey to traffickers. How were they treated by the Government when they returned home? Regarding reports of violence and rape in the detention centres, how were women inmates protected from such behaviour? Could Committee members visit the country to discuss women’s rights?

Country Response

Mr. HO replied that there were food distribution centres in many districts, many of them under the direction of women. The rations might not be sufficient but they were distributed on the basis of family and the number of children in the family. Women who were employed also received rationing at their workplaces so there was some criticism of the system.

Recent research had shown that many women were crossing into China in search of food, and it was clear that emergency measures were needed, he said. Many of the women crossing did not go through the border, due legal formalities but even though they were no longer punished, they were not encouraged to cross without meeting the due formalities.

It was not true to say that the returnees were sent to detention cells for severe punishment, he said. Among the 42 women in labour reform camps, none were in for crossing the border. Pregnant women were not allowed to be punished, according to the law, and it was groundless to say that pregnancy out of wedlock was punished by the legal system.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, asked for more information on Government measures to allow women to participate in political and public life, for example, training courses on capacity-building for women and awareness-raising programmes for male officials on the importance of women’s participation.

Mr. FLINTERMAN asked if there were statistics on the number of women holding posts in political parties and information on measures to increase women’s participation. Were there any human rights organizations with a focus on women’s rights? What was the Government policy on fostering and allowing their cooperation with similar organizations outside the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea?

MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, an expert from Portugal, said that with a voter turnout of 99.9 per cent, the percentage of women voters must be very high; yet their representation in public political life was not reflected by those numbers. She disagreed with the argument used several times that women chose professions with less hard labour. She expected the next report to draw a fuller picture and analysis of women’s participation in political and public life.

MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert from Algeria, noted the large population and challenging geography of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, saying it was not an easy situation to manage. Measures should be taken to increase women’s participation in public and political and diplomatic life.

Country Response

A delegation member said women showed a preference for certain professions such nursing and medicine. The State was trying to improve and assure job opportunities for women in other sectors and the Government was trying to raise their participation in the labour force to 40 per cent.

Mr. HO added that the 10-year national plan included the aim of raising the ratio of women active in public life. Prior to the national plan, the State had relied on a voluntary system and now quota systems were starting to be implemented. The number of women candidates was not as high as that for men, but some women were reluctant to participate. The State knew something had to be done to raise the level of women judges, which stood at only 10 per cent.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, an expert from Ghana, noted some innovative features in education for rural women. However, information from other sources indicated class discrimination. What specific measures were being taken to address stereotyping, including in education and in school curricula? Following the disasters, schools and materials had been destroyed; how long would it be before things returned to normal?

FRANÇOISE GASPARD, an expert from France, said it would be useful if the statistics on education in the next report were disaggregated by gender. What actual measures were being taken to raise the level of women in higher education to 40 per cent? Were there any university studies on gender and would the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea accept cooperation with universities from other countries that might have more experience in that area?

Ms. POPESCU asked about the training of teachers to help eliminate stereotyping and also requested for more information concerning the statement in the report that there were no illiterates or dropout in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. What happened with young girls whose education was interrupted by marriage or pregnancy?

Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA expressed surprise at the statement that there was no discrimination in the field of education. If there was no inequality, were there any forms of hidden discrimination? Why would girls prefer to go to minor colleges rather than universities?

Country Response

A delegation member said education was free and compulsory for all at the primary and secondary levels, and that higher education was attended according to an individual’s desires, attitudes and talents, regardless of sex. To enter university, applicants must pass a common examination and could then go to the university or college of their choice.

Stereotypes still existed in employment, and such traditional jobs as cooks, nurses and teachers were considered ideal for women, she said. Women often attended three-year teacher-training courses or commercial colleges, while men attended longer scientific or technical courses, conforming to traditional practises.

As for illiteracy, she said the country had eradicated it by introducing 11-year compulsory education in the 1950s. In 2004, it had conducted a multi-indicator survey, which had shown that no women were illiterate and that, on average, they completed secondary level education. As for teacher training, secondary school teachers were educated in universities, and university teachers in graduate programmes. There was no discrimination in that field, and women were given every opportunity to be trained as teachers.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. KHAN asked what was meant by allocation of jobs to men. Were men also allocated jobs on the same basis? Exactly what were the types of jobs allocated to women? Were women free to move from rural to urban areas to pursue better job opportunities? Had any complaints on job allocation been made since ratification of CEDAW? If women were allocated jobs on the same basis as men, what caused the paucity of women in managerial positions? Why had the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea not ratified the International Labour Organization Convention?

Country Response

A delegation member said jobs were allocated by the local People’s Committees. The teachers explained the possible jobs to graduates and when popular jobs were not available, temporary positions were assigned. If there was a problem, any women or man was free to petition, which would trigger an investigation. The low number of women in managerial jobs might be due to customary practices and the difficult economic conditions. Sometimes women were not willing to devote that much time to their jobs.

Another representative added that the country was still not a member of the ILO but most of the principles of its Convention had already been incorporated into legislation and the matter was under further consideration.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. COKER-APPIAH said it was not clear if there were instances of domestic violence. If cases were not being reported, health workers could be trained to help in that area by identifying and educating about domestic violence. How were priorities being set for health care in the face of the economic crisis?

Ms. PIMENTEL, Committee Vice-Chairperson, asked for more information about confidentiality policies in health care for men and women. Was rape considered grounds for a legal abortion and was the country sure that the fact that no HIV/AIDS cases had been reported truly meant there were no instances of HIV/AIDS?

Country Response

A member of the delegation said the National Coordination Committee would pay more attention to the issue of domestic violence even if women were not reporting cases. She provided statistics on the number of clinics and doctors paying special attention to women and children, including pregnant women. Abortion was legal but “artificial” abortion was restricted to certain conditions, such as a threat to the life of the mother or severe foetal deformity or in cases where other socials pressures were present. Proud that no cases of HIV/AIDS had been found so far, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had a strict quarantine policy and a strong venereal disease programme.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

ANAMAH TAN, an expert from Singapore, asked how many rural women received social benefits and what types of social insurance were available to them. What effect had the famine in the country had on women and children in rural areas? How many homes had been constructed and where, and how many homes lacked clean water?

Ms. COKER-APPIAH asked what opportunities rural women had to enter other fields of expertise apart from agriculture? saying that the next report should provide more data on rural women, in comparison to women in urban areas, as well as on infant and maternal mortality and women’s education.

Ms. AROCHA DOMÍNGUEZ noted that almost 40 per cent of women lived in rural areas and asked for information and data about women’s roles in large cooperatives, compared to those of men. How were they represented in the management of such enterprises? What efforts were being made in rural areas to guarantee that women had access to non-traditional means of producing food?

Country Response

Mr. HO said several natural disasters in 1994 had resulted in the country’s current economic difficulties, worsening the situation for rural women. The State had developed plans to alleviate their problems, which had included constructing houses and supplying clean water.

Regarding food supplies, another delegation member noted that the country had produced 4.3 billion tonnes of food last year, which was 900,000 tonnes short of domestic demand. To supplement the food supply, the Government had mobilized the entire country to help limited-acreage farmers with more efficient methods and seeds, and introduce potato farming in mountainous areas. It had also urged farmers to cultivate two crops a year, rather than one, and had worked to mechanize agricultural work.

Experts’ Questions and Comments

Ms. GABR noted that the report indicates that there were 2,000 divorce cases. What were the custody and property arrangements in divorce and how were unemployed or divorced women dealt with in terms of rations?

Ms. TAN asked if the family court was a specialist court dealing only with family law. Did the family law provide for orders of protection or restraining orders? In how many cases had the Convention been referred to? Was the divorce trend going up or down and how long did it take for women to get a divorce?

Ms. GNACADJA said she was disturbed by the report’s statement that customary discrimination was not considered a matter of great concern, noting that special protection measures for women sometimes strengthened stereotyping. What were some of those special protections and were there any special protections for men?

Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI inquired about the status of common law marriages and children born out of wedlock and called attention to the commitment made by rich countries at the Beijing Conference to provide 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product.

Country Response

Mr. HO said the divorce trend was decreasing but 2,000 divorces were not considered a small number. Fidelity was very strong in Korean culture, but that did not mean, though, that the freedom to divorce was limited. When a divorce was initiated, the court first attempted mediation and persuasion to determine if there was a temporary misunderstanding. Custody of young children generally went to the mother, and fathers had to devote 30 per cent of their income to supporting them. More marital property was given to the spouse with custody of the children. There was no independent court bearing the title “family court”, but there was a civil court that had more women judges that tended to handle those matters. There was no specific reference in family law to domestic violence, but the criminal law provided for punishment in a general way.

Customary discrimination could not be done away with in a matter of days, he said, adding that it took time and commitment, hence the 10-year plan for women. Some of its special provisions included full pay for less hours worked for mothers with more than three children. A special provision concerning men was that men who had sexual intercourse with women under 15 could be brought before the criminal court. The children of unregistered marriages would be considered innocent even if the union was not considered legal.

Concluding Remarks

HANNA BEATE SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, Committee Vice-Chairperson and expert from Germany, noted that some of the country’s laws on gender equality needed updating, which should be carried out as soon as possible. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea should lift its reservations to CEDAW because they went against the Convention’s object and purpose. The country’s main problems in achieving gender equality lay in traditional attitudes and conceptions about men and women, which still seemed to be free-ranging among the younger generation. The country should include disaggregated statistics for various sections of the Convention in future reports and ratify the Optional Protocol.

Mr. HO maintained that the reservations were due to the lack of understanding of the Convention and would be lifted soon. Today’s dialogue had made the delegation more aware of the Committee’s concerns and its international standards. Legislation left room for improvement, but it was non-discriminatory. Efforts to eliminate outdated stereotypes would continue.