Crossing the Korean peninsula’s demilitarized zone is normally strictly forbidden for all travelers. However, the governments of North and South Korea gave an international delegation of women peace activists permission to pass through the heavily fortified boarder Sunday. But some critics say their symbolic crossing only benefits Pyongyang.
After crossing the DMZ from North Korea by bus, the group of about 30 women from 15 countries arrived at a South Korean transit office.
The activists spent 5 days in the North where they said they discussed women’s issues, human rights and possible peaceful solutions to tensions on the divided peninsula with their hosts.
Some of the women who made the journey include Nobel Peace Prize winners Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and Liberia’s Leymah Gbowee.
American feminist icon, Gloria Steinem, was among the delegation. She told reporters that during their visit, they had open conversations with North Korean women about these issues.
“I know we had real human exchanges with North Korean women. There is nothing like sitting in a circle and telling each other our human stories,” she said.
Steinem said the artificial barrier that has kept people on both sides of the peninsula apart, must come down.
To do that, the women said South and North Korea must sign a peace treaty to officially end the war that concluded with only a cease-fire agreement in 1953.
South Korean supporters as well as opponents of the peace activists waited outside the gates of the DMZ. The detractors said the delegation ignored many of the concerns that the United Nations and other human rights groups have raised about North Korea.
But the women said Pyongyang agreed to sign a statement declaring respect for human rights.
Seventy-eight-year old protestor and former director-general of the South Korean National Unification Board, Lee Dong-bok, called the group “useful idiots”.
“They are helping create the fake impression that North Korea is interested in these issues. In fact, they are not,” said Lee.
While in South Korea, the women’s delegation will hold a symposium about their visit to North Korea.