Ms. cofounder Gloria Steinem joined 30 other women activists from 15 countries Sunday in crossing the heavily fortified border between North and South Korea. The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) has kept the two Koreas divided for the 60 years since the Korean War ended and remains a fault line of strife for the nations, which have yet to sign a peace treaty.
The small group of women, who call themselves WomenCrossDMZ, hoped their actions would call attention to the need for peace and encourage a dialogue between the Koreas.
The women had been granted permission by both governments to cross the border by bus, but neither government could guarantee the safety of the women as they made their way across the DMZ. The North Korean government allowed them to stay in the capital city, Pyongyang, for several days where they spoke with North Korean women during a series of meetings, working as “citizen diplomats.”
Their peace tour ended with North Korea allowing a bus to transport the women across the DMZ to South Korea where reporters were waiting.
“We feel very celebratory and positive that we have created a voyage across the DMZ in peace and reconciliation that was said to be impossible,” said Steinem to reporters after arriving safely in South Korea.
Nobel Peace laureate Mairead Maguire from Northern Ireland, who was among the women, believes that human rights conditions in North Korea could improve if a full peace treaty was signed with South Korea, instead of an armistice, which is what the two countries have now.
The activists also expressed hope for a future where families divided by the Korean War could be reunited, and stressed that Korean women should be at the forefront of the movement for peace. Women defectors especially suffer under the North Korean government: they’ve reported experiences of rape and abuse in the regime’s prison camps.
Photo of Gloria Steinem meeting North Korean women taken from Twitter user colbay.