Activists Cross Demilitarized Zone ; A Group of 30 Women, Including Gloria Steinem, Move between Koreas

By Sang-Hun, Choe | International New York Times, May 25, 2015 | Go to article overview

Activists Cross Demilitarized Zone ; A Group of 30 Women, Including Gloria Steinem, Move between Koreas


Sang-Hun, Choe, International New York Times


Gloria Steinem was among a group of 30 female peace activists who crossed from North Korea to South Korea, calling for an end to hostility.

A group of 30 women peace activists, including the feminist leader Gloria Steinem and two Nobel Peace Prize laureates, on Sunday crossed the demilitarized zone from North Korea to South Korea, calling for an end to the Korean War, whose unresolved hostility has been symbolized by the heavily armed border for six decades.

It was rare for the two rival Korean governments to agree to allow a group of peace activists to pass through the border area, known as the DMZ.

But some of the symbolism the activists had hoped to generate with their Women Cross DMZ campaign was lost when South Korea denied them permission to walk through Panmunjom, a border village where a truce was signed in 1953 to halt, but not formally end, the conflict, leaving the divided Korea in a technical state of war.

Instead, the women, who traveled from Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, were detoured to a checkpoint southwest of Panmunjom.

There, border crossing is a daily event, with convoys of South Korean trucks traveling to and from a joint industrial park in the North Korean town of Kaesong. The women, carrying banners for peace, were again barred from walking, and had to cross by bus.

Still, they considered the endeavor a success.

"We have accomplished what no one said can be done, which is to be a trip for peace, for reconciliation, for human rights and a trip to which both governments agreed," Ms. Steinem told South Korean media shortly after crossing the border. "We were able to be citizen diplomats."

The women -- including the Nobel Peace laureates Mairead Maguire from Northern Ireland and Leymah Gbowee from Liberia -- arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday for the cross-border march that they hoped would highlight the need to build peace and set the stage for Korean reunification by formally ending the war with a permanent peace treaty.

The border crossing, however, took place amid tension over the North's pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and over its human rights record.

Just two days before the women's arrival in Pyongyang, the North's state-run media hurled one of its harshest -- and most sexist -- screeds against President Park Geun-hye of South Korea, calling her "a fork-tongued viper" and one "not worth calling a woman" because "she has never given birth to a baby."

Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry called the North Korean government, led by Kim Jong-un, "one of the most egregious examples of reckless disregard for human rights."

Some rights activists in the United States and South Korea opposed the women's trip, saying that it would be used as propaganda in North Korea, where a peace treaty with Washington is a staple demand. …

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