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Ro Song Sil is the current chairwoman of the Korean Democratic Women’s Union (KDWU). Based on the example of the KDWU, this article will attempt to show that some organizations in North Korea wield not only political influence but are also involved in matters related to the economy. Therefore, engaging with the leadership of these organizations may be an opening for change in North Korea.
According to Michael Madden of NK Leadership Watch, we can define the KDWU as an organization of women, ages 31 to 55, who do not hold membership in another labor organization. The KDWU participates in cultural and construction projects. It has also advocated for North Korean women working in the country’s heavy industry. It has a membership of 200,000 to 250,000 and conducts two official central committee plenums (CC KDWU) per year.
Ro Song Gil (in red) during the a national meeting of the SPA (27th march 2013). Source of the picture: nkleadershipwatch.com
Ro Song Sil was born in 1960. She was educated at Mangyongdae Primary School and then at Kim Il Sung University. Her family was directly connected to the family of Kims (her father fought alongside Kim Il Sung). Currently, Ro Song Sil is the head of the KDWU. She has worked in this organization since 2001. At these times she was responsible for the Pyongyang branch. She’s a young woman who belongs to the next generation of leaders of North Korea. She is open to reforms in North Korea and has frequently travel abroad. She has been to Switzerland (in 2007), to China (2010) Vietnam (September 2011), South America (Brazil).
It should be noted that Ro Song Sil is also associated to Kim Kyong Hee, the wife of Jang Song Thaek and aunt of Kim Jong Un. Kim Kyong Hee personally approved of the choice of Ro Song Sil as the new chairwoman of the KDWU. Jang Song Thaek, via his administrative ministry, educated Ro Song Sil, in order that she could become the next leader of the KDWU. As an additional position, Ro Song Sil is also a member of the Supreme Popular Assembly. She was also at position 143 in the Kim Jong Il funeral committee.
The KDWU is an organization whose power was very high especially in the 1970s. During these times, the organization was involved not only in propaganda matters but also in economic ventures. According to a defector that I met two years ago, this organization was sometimes even more powerful than some cells of the Party on a micro-economic scale. This was due to the leadership of Kim Sung Ae, one of the wives of Kim Il Sung, who was at the head of the KDWU in the 1960s.
Kim Sung Ae increased the activities of this organization because she wanted to expand her power base. As mother–in-law to Kim Jong Il and Kim Kyung Hee, she was not appreciated by either of them. Therefore she lost her position and was put under the control of Kim Kyong Hee, who supervised her between 1971 and 1975. During these years, Kim Kyong Hee increased her role in the KDWU. Kim Sung Ae was nevertheless reinstated to a similar position in 1993, but her duties were symbolic. She was forced to retire in 1998.
Ro Song Sil is also a member of the inner circle of Jang Song Thaek. As a reward, she was nominated to the State Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission, which works under the direction of Jang Song Thaek. In September 2010, she was nominated as an alternate member of the Central Committee of the Korean Workers’ Party. Her nomination has to have something with the nomination of Kim Jong Un as the heir of Kim Jong Il. An important conclusion may be drawn: her role is closely related to the position of Jang Song Thaek.
This is why Ro Song Sil may be an important person in the North Korean leadership. As usually is the case in North Korea, Ro Song Sil, who is already in her late 40s, should now be dismissed from her position. But we can imagine that she may stay in this organization in a behind-the-scene role and the next chairwoman of this organization would be a younger woman.
The weight of this organization cannot be underestimated. Its duties are not only related to political issues but also to economic (this new direction was applied by Kim Kyung Hee). The Korean Democratic Women’s Union possesses some economic infrastructure, especially in the case of factories with a majority of women workers who are are under the management of the KDWU. These elements indicate to us that if we want to change the future of North Korea, and if we want to educate women so that they can participate in a new North Korea, we should increase cooperation with this organization. In this regard, I strongly encourage cooperation with the KDWU. How to do it? We can be in touch with the KDWU when one of these delegations are abroad.Nicolas Levi is a researcher at the Polish Academy of Sciences and an analyst on Korean Issues at the Poland Asia Research Center (www.polska-azja.pl). Holding a PhD regarding the North-Korean leadership, his personal website (nkreports.wordpress.com) focuses on North Korea issues.
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