North Korean authorities have increasingly been mobilizing housewives and forcing them to contribute money to and work on various regime-mandated projects in cities and counties around the country, disrupting their livelihoods and family life, sources inside the country said.
Groups of the women, referred to as “street laborers,” are being forced to work whenever the ruling Korean Workers’ Party issues a work order, they said.
“If women do not participate in these forced tasks, then judicial authorities will not allow them to participate in individual business ventures” such as selling goods or fruit in local markets, said a source in North Hamgyong province. “For this reason, women have no choice but to focus on big project tasks.”
After the Korean Workers’ Party issues a project plan, the tasks to implement it are handed down to the counties and cities, which mobilize and monitor citizens assigned to perform the work, he said.
Power plants, munitions factories and “model” factories are among the large party-mandated construction projects built by the men’s construction corps, while the housewives construction corps works on foster care facilities for orphaned or unwanted children and road construction projects, the source said.
“Big building projects and [plans] within the province are monitored by provincial officials and don’t receive any support from the Korean Workers’ Party,” he said.
The state only issues the policies, while citizens must bear the costs of construction themselves, he said.
Because many factories in North Korea do not operate on a regular schedule due to a lack of raw material and electricity, workers are often idle and must get by on less-than-subsistence wages, said another source from North Hamgyong province.
“There are countless numbers of factories that have stopped their operations because of the lack of materials, not just in North Hamgyong province but also in the entire nation,” he said.
“Yet, the government is still making a fuss about opening the Seventh Workers’ Party Congress,” he added, referring to a rare party gathering held this month in Pyongyang.
But while regular factory workers or builders working on large construction projects are left to kill time during their work hours, the female “street laborers” work efficiently, he said.
“The reason these women work faithfully on railway maintenance or building construction is because they must quickly finish the tasks in order to have time for their individual business,” he said.
The women must support their families through such supplemental work, while their husbands are at work, the source said.
“In order for these women to continue their individual business without the judicial authorities cracking down on them, they must be able to successfully perform the duties doled out to them by authorities and use their support funds [for the projects] very well,” the source said.
“Street laborers are known for their hard work and efforts, but there are certain pathetic aspects of what goes on behind the labor,” he said.
The source cited the example of a woman from Songpyong district in Cheongjin city who could not pay her support payment for local projects because she lacked the money.
“She held out until the judicial authorities cracked down on her individual business, which caused her family to suffer from hunger,” he said.
North Korean authorities frequently mobilize and force citizens, including university students, to build new structures and spruce up existing buildings in the run-up to major regime events such as the recent Korean Workers’ Party Congress in Pyongyang.
Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Jackie Yoo. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.