Korea, Today and Tomorrow

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Korea, Today and Tomorrow

Mother’s Day in N. Korea



South Korea celebrated Parents’ Day on Monday, May 8. On this special day for expressing love and gratitude to parents, many people pinned a red carnation on their parents’ chest, presented heartfelt gifts to them and shared delicious food to have a wonderful time together. Is there anything like Parents’ Day in North Korea? 

Today, we’ll learn about Mother’s Day in North Korea from Hyun In-ae, visiting research fellow at the Ewha Institute of Unification Studies. 

South Korea marked the 51st Parents’ Day this year to pay tribute to all parents who have raised their children devotedly, cherishing them like the most precious treasure. But in North Korea, there is no Parents’ Day.  

In place of Parents’ Day, North Korea marks Mother’s Day on November 16 every year. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un designated November 16 as Mother’s Day in 2012. It was the first holiday created by the leader after he came to power. The date was the anniversary of the inaugural National Meeting of Mothers in 1961, when regime founder Kim Il-sung delivered a speech under the title of “The Duty of Mothers in the Education of Children.” The current leader selected the date in an apparent bid to capitalize on Kim Il-sung’s image. 

In his speech on November 16, 1961, Kim Il-sung urged married women to engage in outside activities to contribute to building a socialist country. Current leader Kim Jong-un designated that day as Mother’s Day in 2012, the first year of his rule when he was officially named First Secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party and also First Chairman of the National Defense Commission. 

In fact, South Korea designated May 8 as Mother’s Day in 1956 to console mothers raising their children alone without their husbands, who died during the Korean War. Mothers’ Day celebrations continued until 1973 when it was replaced by Parents’ Day. But North Korea still uses the term, Mother’s Day.

In North Korea, the word “eobeoi”(어버이), meaning “parents,” cannot be used to refer to ordinary people. It is reserved only for the supreme leader. So the phrase “Parents’ Day” is not appropriate. Then, some might be wondering why the phrase “Father’s Day” is not used. North Korea always says that mothers are more important than fathers in the family. That’s why. 

In North Korea, former leader Kim Jong-il is called “Father General,” and the nation’s founder Kim Il-sung is referred to as “Eobeoi (parents) Supreme Leader.” That is, the Korean word for “parents” is used to idolize the top leader. Current leader Kim jong-un designated November 16 as Mother’s Day in a move to strengthen his power base by following the instructions left by his two predecessors. In the North, Mother’s Day is observed as a special holiday dedicated to women. 

North Korea celebrates Mother’s Day by hosting a variety of events including lecture meetings about how great the supreme leader was, singing events and art performances. On this occasion, the Rodong Sinmun newspaper highlights the roles of women, while local TV introduces women who stand out in certain areas and shows art movies about women. 

On Mother’s Day every year, North Korea’s state-run media air programs about mothers and women as well as various celebratory performances. 

Flower shops are also busy preparing bouquets and baskets. 

Every November, our shop is crowded with so many people. 

Families and workplaces present flowers to mothers and women in recognition of their hard work, while sons and daughters prepare cosmetics products, among others. 

I’ll give this cosmetic product to my mother as a gift. I heard it helps smooth out wrinkles and makes the skin softer. 

Congratulations cards are something that cannot be missed on Mother’s Day in North Korea. 

I like this card. I’ll contain my love and my fellow soldiers’ heartfelt messages in it and send it to my mother. 

On Mother’s Day, mothers receive cards from their children or acquaintances. 

Unlike in South Korea, people in the North send congratulations postcards to their mothers. North Korean authorities issue postcards for Mother’s Day. They come in different shapes and colors, featuring various images and the phrase “Happy Mother’s Day.” 

Top-notch artists in North Korea produce the congratulations cards, with the phrase “Happy Mother’s Day” printed on them in different types of fonts. 

All citizens in North Korea celebrate Mother’s Day, which is a public holiday, in a big way. So, why does the country put so much emphasis on Mother’s Day? 

North Korean authorities stress that the key role of mothers is to have many children and send them to the people’s army. Last month, three women who have many children were awarded the title of “Heroine of Labor,” which is the highest title along with the “Hero or Heroine of the Republic” in the country. Thousands of women have been given the Meritorious Service Medal for raising many children. 

A falling population is a serious social issue in South Korea. Similarly, North Korea is also grappling with a declining population, which results in the decrease in the number of working-age people. The North finds it difficult to make up for the shortfall in military personnel, in particular, as it needs to maintain over one million troops. Against the backdrop, North Korea urges women to have many children and raise them well as would-be soldiers. 

North Korea stresses the roles of women in order to promote childbirth. International sanctions on North Korea have prolonged economic difficulties in the country, while more and more women are engaging in social activities. As a result, a low birthrate has emerged as a serious social problem. That’s why women who have many children are praised as heroines. 

All I did was raise my children. It was the right thing to do as a woman, citizen and family member of a soldier in this country. 

North Korea faces a labor shortage. So, women who have as many as seven to eight children are given the honorific title of “maternal heroine.” Even leader Kim Jong-un calls attention to multiple births, in particular, as they are hailed as great news for the nation. 

In the North, people who have triplets are provided with food and medicine for free and they are allocated homes on a preferential basis. But women’s roles are not just limited to childbirth and childcare. 

When North Korea pushed for industrialization in the past, women were encouraged to carry out social activities, that is, work, because the country needed a large amount of labor. Women were the answer to the lack of workers. At the time, women who worked hard were considered to be exemplary women. 

Women were also required to do odd jobs around their villages. In the busy farming season, they had to work at local farms several times a week. When a construction project was underway, they should supply food to construction workers. North Korea emphasized these social roles of women. 

North Korea established the Korean Democratic Women’s League in 1945. 

It is obligatory for housewives between the ages of 31 and 55 to join the women’s union. Consisting of married women, the organization requires mothers to implement party policies in their family. For that purpose, women prepare breakfast early in the morning, carry out propaganda activities while their husbands are on their way to work, assist their husbands in worksites and help provide supplies, including relief goods. 

North Korea encourages women to perform these tasks under the slogan of “women’s liberation” and “gender equality.” But the real purpose is to mobilize the female workforce.

Under the current leader’s rule, North Korea has paid close attention to women-related days, including Mother’s Day and March 8 International Women’s Day. North Korean media bring to light women who are socially active, claiming that they are given full support by the state and the party. Is it true that the status of North Korean women is improving? 

Speaking of gender equality in North Korea, the country never mentions the need for men to split domestic work with their wives. Many North Koreans still take it for granted that women are responsible for household chores. Today, the major role of North Korean women is to earn money at the marketplace and feed their husbands and children. But the government keeps its mouth shut about this reality. The authorities turn a blind eye to women’s market activities, pretending there are no such activities. Therefore, North Korean women are not recognized properly, although they play a great role, both in their family and society. 

North Korean women have been changing since the country suffered the worst food crisis during the so-called Arduous March Period in the mid-and late-1990s. They have no longer depended entirely on their husbands but have come forward to support their family instead. With the private market or jangmadang propping up the local economy, women’s status has been raised, compared to the past.

In North Korea, women are often described as the “flowers of socialism” and the “flowers of the family.” Based on market activities, the number of North Korean women with challenging and progressive spirit is increasing, with the flowers of their lives ready to start blossoming. If a favorable environment is created to facilitate their economic and social activities, North Korean society led by those women will probably be different from what it is today. 

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