A defector from the North Korean army has detailed the appalling conditions endured by women soldiers, including routinely being raped by superior officers.
Lee So-yeon served as a soldier in the North Korean army before defecting and becoming a Women’s Union representative in South Korea, where she recently addressed a conference about women’s rights. The Korea Herald reports Lee claimed senior officer abused their power to rape lower-ranking women. “Out of 120 soldiers in my unit, there were only 20 men, but they were all high-ranking officers. I was in the 1st squad, but a couple of squad leaders in the 2nd squad raped every single one of the low-ranking female soldiers,” Lee told the conference, held last month to mark International Women’s Day.
Another defector, who worked as a railway attendant, corroborated the culture of rape, saying “women crew members often fell victim to sexual assault and rape, which was common in trains carrying soldiers, especially in the evening when lights were turned off.” She added that she labored under undignified conditions, in which female workers had to “reuse sanitary pads that were already solidified (with blood).”
The Guardian reported in 2015 that mandatory military service would be introduced for women, enlisting at ages 17 and 20, and requiring them to serve until the age of 23. Previously service was only mandatory for men with women able to join up voluntarily.
The Independent noted “it is difficult to discern accurate information about life inside North Korea, given the secretive nature of the state,” but that around a million people are estimated to currently serve in the country’s army.