Activities and Tasks of the Women's Peace Movement in South Korea


Cho Young-hee

Standing Representative

Women Making Peace

I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to all the participants of the 2010 Northeast Asian Women's Peace Conference. I feel deep sisterhood and also gratefulness to those who are here despite your busy schedules and from faraway places from Russia, the United States, China, Japan, Northern Ireland, etc.  

As you may know, the seed for the Northeast Asian Women's Peace Conference was planted in 2007 when women from four countries got together in Korea. The 2008 conference was held in Korea, the 2009 conference in Washington, DC, and the 2010 conference is now here in Seoul. Korea Women's Associations United, KCRC, Women Making Peace and other Korean women's organizations worked hard to organize this Conference. It is not easy for women to organize and prepare for an international conference at this scale. Apart from the financial issue, we also had difficulties promoting the will for peace that has diminished because of the political climate on the Korean Peninsula.  At this time, Northeast Asia is heading in the opposite direction of peace. Thus, I hope this 2010 Conference will be the place where we women reconfirm our passion and hopes for peace and set up specific visions of women working toward peace on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia.     

Discontinuity and Frustrations

Since the current adminstration took office in 2008, the inter-Korean relationship has regressed seriously; the Six-Party Talks and the negotiation framework to resolve the issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons have stopped. After stepping in, the Lee administration proposed the "non-nuclear, openness, 3000" plan, which was aimed at denuclearizing North Korea while improving inter-Korean relations and urging North Korea to adopt an open-door policy. Since then, the "denuclearization of North Korea first" has become the unyielding precondition put up by the South Korean government in resolving the inter-Korean relationship.  

However, this precondition goes against the principle of "commitment for commitment and action for action" that was agreed upon in the "Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks" on September 19, 2005, and the February 13 Agreement, where the parties agreed to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, normalization of North Korean-U.S. relations, economic and energy cooperation, and Northeast Asia peace and security mechanism all at the same time. The current administration is not observing the June 15th North-South Joint Declaration (2000) and the October 4 Inter-Korean Summit Agreement between the former Presidents Kim Dae-joong and Roh Moo-hyun of South Korea and Chairman Kim Jung-Il of North Korea. And the Lee Myung-bak administration's policy toward North Korea is denying the international agreements by the Six-Party member countries.   

As a condition for denuclearization, North Korea has continued its efforts to secure its survival and security and to enter the international society as a normal state. Thus, it would interpret the South's demand for denuclearization first before exchange, cooperation and aid, as surrendering first. Furthermore, the North would be powerless to do anything, if the promised aid and security guarantee were not granted after it denuclearizes. Consequently, the inter-Korean relationship was bound to freeze. However, it is regrettable that North Korea went ahead with its first nuclear testing in October 2006 and second one, in May 2009. These testings are a threat to women who seek peace and to the Korean Peninsula, and mean heightened tensions in Northeast Asia.

We women eagerly welcomed when the Obama administration took office as a new beginning for world peace. We had a big hope that it would stop the war and terror that had been proliferated throughout the world. However, the Obama administration's policy toward North Korea is much similar to that of the Bush administration. If the Obama administration continues the sanctions and pressure North Korea under its policy of "strategic patience," military tensions will escalate and the possibility of war breaking out on the Korean Peninsula will increase. We women believe that the Obama administration needs to start from the Clinton's engagement policy or the negotiation policy at the end of the Bush administration. The policy that is pursued from this direction would be suitable for realizing a world without nuclear weapons and peace in Northeast Asia by leading North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons and realizing peace in Northeast Asia.


In July 2008, a South Korean tourist was shot to death in Mt. Kumkang. This tragic event occurred less than six months after the current administration took office. The South Korean government demanded the North to make an apology, allow an investigation to be conducted, and promise not to repeat the same type of atrocity. Although the South was not allowed to conduct an investigation.  The North expressed condolences and Kim Jung Il made a promise guaranteeing safety of tourists to Hyundai Group's chairman Hyun Jung-Eun. However, the South Korean government thought that the North's gestures were not enough. After the killing, inter-Korean relations soured seriously: the Mt. Kumkang tour program ceased, inter-Korean exchanges shrank, humanitarian aid was reduced, civilian exchange support stopped, and reunions of separated families stopped. The Keasung Industrial Complex became the only weak link connecting the South and the North.         

What we women could not accept was not only the cut-off of humanitarian aid to the North. In addition, because the government of South Korea did not grant permission, the 2009 conference of inter-Korean women's delegations planned to take place in Pyongyang in April 2010 was canceled immediately before it was to be held, and South Korean representatives could not attend the meeting.  The purpose of the meeting was to continue to resolve the "comfort women" issue. The conference of inter-Korean women's delegations began in 2000, ignited by the June 15th North-South Joint Declaration to realize harmony, cooperation and unification. This project continued in order to discuss the role of women through exchanges between North and South Korean women to promote mutual understanding and realize a peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula. And the women's efforts to resolve the "comfort women" issue had been going on for almost 20 years. This missed opportunity to hold the meeting between South and North Korean women saddened 14 former-"comfort women," originally from North Korea, at the end of their lives. They had to shed the tears of pain for what could have been their final visits to their homes. These elderly women who missed out the opportunity to share their painful lives with their relatives back home were very frustrated and resentful because the government was barring them from resolving the past and keeping the dignity of the Korean people. Civilian exchanges and economic cooperation are very important because they not only are meaningful in their own rights but also play the role of buffer when political and military tensions heighten between South and North Korea. However, limiting civilian exchanges at a time when inter-Korean relations are cut off and tense is very foolish because it is like taking away the only buffer between the two.   

The date for the reuniting of separated families, which has been agreed upon through a difficult process, has been continually delayed because the Mt. Kumgang tragedy was not resolved between the South and the North during the past two years. In South Korea, it has been estimated that there are more than 700,000 separated family members who are older than 80 years. They yearn to meet their families. While both authorities are having a power struggle on the place and conditions of reunion, these elderly people who have weathered the past 60 years of pain are wilting away because of long waiting and illnesses. More than 40,000 are estimated to have passed away without opportunities to meet their loved ones while they were alive. The issue of reuniting separated families is one of the biggest humanitarian problems and should be resolved, no matter what. We need to stop negotiating for the sake of political interests in front of the tears shed by these elderly people. A bold decision by both authorities is needed to take away the pain and tears of these separated families.   

This year has been the worst year for natural disasters globally due to climate change. Floods hit South Korea and the North also suffered seriously from flooding in the Shineuiju area. The South Korean government barred all forms of aid, not only at the government level but also at the NGO or civilian level. Fortunately, the government decided to grant KRW 10 billion to victims of the flood in the North, which was welcomed by not only South's aid groups but also civilian and farmers's organizations. The government also promised to send 5,000 tons of rice, which was less than expected, because in 2006 it had sent 100,000 tons for flood-stricken victims in the North. 

The South Korean government has not sent rice aid to the North for the past two and a half years. The Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations had sent 400,000 to 500,000 tons of rice each year. And the South is facing a storage crisis because it does not have any more places to store rice already in storage, let alone newly harvested rice. It was reported that some 1.4 million tons of rice is in storage, which is most likely due to the fact that no rice aid was granted to the North for the past two and a half years. North Korean people do not have rice to eat but the South lacks storage for the rice. It is regrettable that the media reported that the government is planning to use the remaining rice as animal feed. It is well-known that the number of North Korean escapees is increasing because they do not have anything to eat and that their women and children are the biggest victims of food shortage. This flabbergasting situation is occurring between South and North Korea with the only DMZ dividing both. What do we need to do?       

It reminds me of the Chinese word "harmony and peace (和平)", which can be interpreted the meaning of peace as sharing food equally. Ms. Lee Woo-jung (deceased), the guiding light of the Korean Women's Peace Movement and the first chairman of Women Making Peace, used to say that the character harmony(和) combines the characters rice(米) and mouth(口) and that when food is shared equally(平等), then harmony and peace(平和) would be achieved. When we share food equally, then true peace will be achieved. I believe that it is time that we women who are gathered here to realize harmony and peace on the Korean Peninsula and peace in Northeast Asia need to turn back to the basic principle of peace, ie., "the sharing of food". The current situation of the Korean Peninsula, where food is not shared, is a time of unstable peace that can be shattered any time.            

Unstable Peace

On March 26, 2010 we witnessed a tragedy of 46 seamen being killed with the sinking of the South Korean Navy patrol ship Cheonan. South and North Koreas have encountered many military confrontations along the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the West Sea. But the two sides had agreed through the second inter-Korean Summit on October 4, 2007 to turn the West Sea a region of harmony, not dispute and confrontation. Nonetheless, the West Sea still harbors the ill feelings of war.    

After this tragic incident, an investigation team composed of international experts was organized by the South Korean Ministry of Defense, which on May 24, reported that the sinking was the result of a torpedo attack by North Korea. I do not want to focus on fact-finding and there are not enough data nor evidence to extend complicated discussions on the cause. However, as a woman peace activist, I want to express my deep concern on what is happening in the Korean society after the incident. Immediately after the report was released, North Korea refuted the findings and demanded a joint investigation, which was denied by the South Korean government. This denial the was direct opposite of how North Korea responded after the Kumkang incident two years ago when a South Korean tourist was killed by a North Korean solider, and the government of the South demanded the North to allow the South to conduct an investigation in the North. Likewise, the South refused the North to conduct an investigation in its seas. As a result, the inter-Korean relationship regressed backed to isolation and hostility. Furthermore, I worry that we might turn back to the Cold War era in Northeast Asia after the Cheonan incident.    


The South Korean government took the Cheonan issue to the UN Security Council where the U.S. and Japan supported sanctions against North Korea. However, despite the South Korean government's diplomatic efforts, the UN Security Council released a resolution that stated oddly that the Naval Ship sank because of an external attack, but did not specify the cause of the attack. Nonetheless, a huge ROK-U.S. joint military exercise involving the American nuclear-powered supercarrier USS George Washington was conducted in the East Sea, where the Japanese Navy joined the joint exercise for the first time. The ROK-U.S. joint Ulchi Freedom Guardian Exercise was an emergency exercise against threats from North Korea. Furthermore, they also conducted a large-scale anti-submarine exercise that mobilized the Korean destroyer (KDX-II), escort ships, patrols and the USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) and USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62). The ROK-U.S. alliance has strengthened after the Cheonan incident and the ROK-U.S.-Japan tripartite military alliance has become more specific. In turn, North Korea and China became closer to increase their security, which was shown clearly when Chairman Kim Jung-Il visited China in May and August this year.

The ROK-US military exercises that followed the Cheonan event are related to the shift in the South Korean government's military strategy against the North from the principle of "defense" to that of "active suppression". It is clear that the competition to build up military power would be excelled because suppression through strengthening military power is bound to bring strengthening of military power from the opposite party. An aggressive military strategy always defines the enemy to be knocked down. Soldiers only need to fulfill the duty of defending their land under the "defense" strategy. However, once the "active suppression" strategy is adopted, there is bound to be an enemy to be eliminated and hostility training follows. It saddens me that young people are still subjected to military exercises by internalizing hostility that is promoted based on the Cold War ideology, even in this 21st century. The military culture that promotes hostility in the barracks will expand to militarize the entire society and the military culture will take root.  

Is "peace based on peaceful means", which states that peace needs to be archived by resolving conflicts and disputes with dialogue, agreement and cooperation, just an empty chant by peace activists? Despite the fact that the Korean Peninsula is still a conflict zone, we need to manage those factors causing tension through talks and political negotiation power. The common benefits that can lead to win-win for both South and North Koreas are needed right now, more than any other time. When we think about disintegration and disaster that could be brought about when conflicts are resolved using arms or through a war, we should turn those opportunities of dialogue to the platform creating trust and forming harmony. This is why we need strong will to turn even few opportunities, such as working level meetings for reunion of separated families, or for humanitarian aid purposes, into steppingstones toward improving the inter-Korean relationship that has regressed so much.   

The June 15th North-South Joint Declaration released in 2000 focuses on inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation. The Declaration does not contain issues related with peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, ie., the issue of North Korean nuclear weapons, inter-Korean military arms race, ROK-US alliance, etc., because President Kim Dae-Joong thought that the issue of building peace on the Korean Peninsula has not something that both Koreas could realize on our own, so he wanted to lay the foundation toward building peace through inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation firstly.  

His "sunshine" policy of inter-Korean harmony and cooperation led to the Mt. Kumgang tour program, Kaesung Industrial Complex, and active inter-Korean trade and civilian exchanges and support. Women of both Koreas met on June 15 and August 15. Their meetings and large scale events such as the inter-Korean women's reunification rally and inter-Korean women's delegations meeting were held regularly at Mt. Kumgang and Pyongyang. Thus, both Koreas worked toward unification, rather than being the enemies, under "a special relationship pursuing reunification" based on the 1991 Basic Agreement.   


President Roh Moo-hyun continued on with the former administration's harmony and cooperation policy and tried to work on the issues of peace, security and especially North Korea's nuclear weapons within the framework of the Six-Party Talks. As a result, he confirmed the contents of the September 19 "Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks" (2005) with the U.S. President George Bush who had agreed to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula (November 17, 2005). President Roh and Chairman Kim mentioned the possibility of holding three-party or four-party talks for a peace treaty (October 4, 2007). These efforts of the past decade need to continue.        

However, the inter-Korean relationship has been filled with mutual distrust, criticism, words of attack for the past two and a half years and the link between the Koreas is almost severed. Only rampant hostile language and planned military exercises are remaining. Thus, we face a huge potential of a war breaking out any time. What we have right now is "unstable peace".   

Unstable inter-Korean relations means unstable peace in Northeast Asia. It seems that the U.S. and China talk and act like the "G2". There is a Korean saying that "shrimps' backs would burst amid whales fighting". Korean companies do not know what to do when caught in the confrontations between the U.S. and China over the sanctions against Iran. We also worry about the maritime disputes between China and Japan. Unstable peace is barely continuing even in Northeast Asia.      

What we women need to do? 

The Korean women's peace movement has conducted various activities up to now. Other than the inter-Korean women's exchanges as mentioned earlier, we provided humanitarian aid to children and women in North Korea. We also led the anti-war campaigns against the deployment of Korean troops to Afghanistan and Iran. We were also involved in efforts to provide peace education and expand the culture of peace. Particularly, we played an important role in being the first to provide the education program on conflict resolution, which is spreading throughout the Korean society. We pioneered the method of approaching peace through culture, which we encounter in our daily lives, and in Korea which has been divided for a long time, through our peace education program for teens. We demanded more participation of women in policy decision-makings related to unification or defense. We also demanded the government to conduct surveys on the effects of these policies on gender and to carry out the UN Security Council Resolution 1325. However, we were not able to achieve any realistic outcomes because peace and gender sensitivity are still very low in political groups in the fields of unification, foreign affairs and defense.   

However, our experience over the past two and a half years makes Korean women  feel more deeply the vulnerability of unstable peace. We realize that we need to establish a permanent mechanism that can guarantee permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia to ultimately break out of this unstable peace.     

Sisters from abroad, Korean women urgently need your cooperation. So I believe this Conference is very precious as a setting where we, the women from Northeast Asia, share our knowledge, wisdom and vision for peace in Korea and Northeast Asia. Currently, Northeast Asian countries are embroiled in escalating disputes and competition to protect their own interests. Politics focusing on reality and international relations will point only to the protecting of the interests of their own nations. However, we women know that mutual security, mutual development and mutual prosperity in Northeast Asia will bring much more than each nation pursuing its own interest. Then, what do we need to pursue this goal of mutual security, development and prosperity?  


First, we need to restore the multilateral cooperative security framework that provides the platform to jointly discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, building a peace mechanism in Korea and Northeast Asia, and securing a mechanism guaranteeing security in Northest Asia. What is urgent at the moment is finding ways to ease tension and secure a sustainable peace mechanism in Korea and Northeast Asia through the Six-Party Talks. I propose that at the 2010 Northeast Asian Women's Peace Conference, we demand the Six-Party member countries to restore the talks as soon as possible. I also propose that we strongly demand these countries to involve women as participants or observers in the Six-Party Talks. After the 2009 Conference in Washington D.C., our delegation visited the U.S. Defense Department and met members of the foreign affairs committees at the House of Representative and the Senate. And at these meetings, we demanded the U.S. to appoint at least half of the decision-making and development support positions related with North Korea as women. Furthermore, we demanded active support toward Track II activities, ie., women NGO activities. Although their answers were positive, there are no specifics because the Six-Party Talks have not resumed. However, we who are gathered here need to continue these demands and let our voices be heard everywhere. 

Second, we need to demand that the South Korean government resume humanitarian aid to North Korea as soon as possible. The Lee administration stated that flood relief aid would be limited to the Shineuiju region. However, North Korean people are chronically malnourished. Thus, we need to resume sending food and medicines for women and children of North Korea. The remaining inter-Korean exchange funds (18.1% used in 2008 and 8.6% used in 2009) need to be used for those marginalized people in North Korea who are in need of relief.     

Third, we need to resume inter-Korean women's exchanges. The government of South Korea has been restricting inter-Korean women's meetings for various reasons and did not allow working level women to be involved in inter-Korea exchanges or to contact North Korean counterparts. If South Korea truly wants a peace community on the Korean Peninsula, it should not limit various exchanges, cooperation and support. As mentioned earlier, civilian exchanges and solidarity not only buffer tensions and conflicts but also act as the true peace education, treating the scars from division and promoting mutual understanding.          

Lastly, we need to change the military culture of focusing on confrontations and competition on the Korea Peninsula and in Northeast Asia to the culture of peace. Rather than strengthening confrontational bilateral alliance regimes at the military level, we need to strive toward a multi-lateral security framework guaranteeing mutual security in Northeast Asia and a economic community pursuing mutual benefit. It is only possible when South Korea, North Korea and other Northeast Asian countries are steering toward win-win relationships, in other words, toward the culture of peace. Peace in Korea and Northeast Asia can be achieved when we discover people that we want to share our lives with, rather than enemies that we need to destroy; that is, the road to humanity, not the road to hostility. Thank you.


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