North Korea claims to uphold gender equality, but women have a much lower status in society, and several rights bodies have reported that violence against women is common. According to accounts from North Korean women gathered by Human Rights Watch in April, gender-based violence both in public and private spaces often go unpunished. According to a 2014 U.N. report, women’s rights violations are endemic. “The State has imposed blatantly discriminatory restrictions on women in an attempt to maintain the gender stereotype of the pure and innocent Korean woman. Sexual and gender-based violence against women is prevalent throughout all areas of society,” the report read.
North Korean women may have a better chance of staying under the radar and working informally in China in restaurants and factories. Many women working abroad send money back to their families in North Korea. Women also have a significantly lower social status than men in North Korea, which allows them to remain further out of sight from authorities, said Heather Barr, a senior researcher in the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch. North Korean women hold few positions in government or state-run businesses, and instead are the key movers of an informal market that sprang up after the near collapse of North Korea’s economy in the 1990s.
"North Korea is a traditional male-dominated society and traditional gender roles remain," says Juliette Morillot, author of North Korea in 100 questions, published in French. "Women are still seen ttukong unjeongsu, which literally translates as 'cooking pot lid drivers', and means that they should 'stay in the kitchen where they belong'."
Drawn to what they hope is a guarantee of work, some women who cross the border are instead sold to Chinese or Korean-Chinese men in rural areas who cannot find wives due to poverty, undesirable living conditions, disability and the lopsided gender demographics created by the now-replaced one-child policy. Other women are abducted in public spaces, such as streets and trains, and forced into prostitution