According to a North Korean defector, women in North Korea’s army are in many cases raped, forced to stop using sanitary pads and endure such harsh training to their bodies that they stop menstruating, the BBC recently reported.
Lee So Yeon, a former soldier who served in North Korea’s Army for 10 years and defected to South Korea through China, said women in the military are often raped and face sexual abuse.
So Yeon, now 41, told the BBC that the harsh training their bodies had to endure took a toll on females’ bodies.
“After six months to a year of service, we wouldn’t menstruate anymore because of malnutrition and the stressful environment,” So Yeon told the BBC. “The female soldiers were saying that they are glad that they are not having periods. They were saying that they were glad because the situation is so bad if they were having periods too, that would have been worse.”
During her time in the military from 1992 to 2001, she said the military didn’t provide provisions for women.
“Women to this day still use the traditional white cotton pads,” said Juliette Morillot, author of “North Korea in 100 Question.”
“They have to be washed every night when out of men’s sight, so women get up early and wash them,” Morillot said.
“One of the girls I spoke with, who was 20, told me she trained so much that she had skipped her periods for two years,” Morillot added.
Women in the military claimed that while they were not raped themselves, other women often were.
“The company commander would stay in his room at the unit after hours and rape the female soldiers under his command,” So Yeon said. “This would happen over and over without an end.”
Even though rape is a serious offense in North Korea, women often don’t testify and men go unpunished, Morillot said.
According to the BBC, women and men have similar daily routines, and women have slightly less rigorous training regimes. However, women were the only ones to perform daily chores such as cooking and cleaning.
So Yeon twice attempted to escape the country.
In 2008, she was caught at the Chinese border and sent to a prison camp for a year. After getting out of the prison camp, she attempted a second time and escaped by swimming the Tumen River and escaping into China.