An international group of female peace activists successfully crossed the world’s heaviest guarded border between North and South Korea in what they said was a symbolic act to call for peace but what critics say is a publicity stunt and propaganda for North Korea.
Known as Women Cross DMZ, noted feminist and sociopolitical worker Gloria Steinem led the group, consisting of 30 women from 15 countries around the world, including two Nobel Peace laureates, Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia.
“This is an enormous triumph,” Steinem explained. "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.”
They believe that women from both sides need to be involved in the peace-building process. The group also aims to reunite the families divided by the Korean War and replacing the 1953 armistice with a permanent peace treaty.
The women initially planned to walk across the demilitarized zone into South Korea but faced a temporary setback when the South Korean government denied them permission to cross at Panmunjom – the “truce-village” – citing security concerns. Instead, a bus picked the women up on the north side and brought them south where the activists held peace symposia for women.
In North Korea, the activists said they acted as “citizen diplomats” and interacted with women at a series of events, but their reception in the South turned out to be a little frosty. When the women stepped out of the bus, they were greeted by around 500 protesters who held placards telling them to “go to hell,” “get out” or “go back to North Korea.”
Since these women were entering the state from the North, the cold reception was not completely unexpected. However, the event wasn’t well received among other activists either. In fact, several deemed it a publicity stunt and a propaganda tactic.
“It is absolutely outrageous that they completely ignore the suffering of the North Korean people, especially North Korean women,” said Suzanne Scholte, head of the North Korea Freedom Coalition. “If they truly cared, they would cross the China-North Korea border instead, which is actually more dangerous now than the DMZ.”
Women Cross DMZ marchers were also called North Korea sympathizers.
Feminist peace activists just crossed the DMZ between North and South Korea— Manifest Mutiny (@CryingWolfe) May 25, 2015
“This is a so-called peace march but there is no peace here. Kim Jong-un's nuclear ambitions and hostile acts towards the south prevents peace," North Korean defector Dr. Lee Ae-ran told BBC, alleging that the group was promoting Pyongyang's viewpoints.
Alex Gladstein from Human Rights Foundation also accused the event organizers of “whitewashing the North Korean regime for more than a decade, always excusing the Kims, saying they aren't so bad and blaming North Korea's problems on South Korea and the U.S.”
However, despite the countless allegations, the fact that both the North Korea and South Korea allowed for such a peace rally to take place on the heavily fortified zone is not only rare, but completely unheard of.
2015 marks the 70th anniversary of peninsula’s division into two separate states after the 1950-53 war.