Two years ago, when Christine Ahn proposed that a delegation of international women peacemakers walk across the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) which separates North and South Korea in support of Korean women and men working for reconciliation and reunification for Korean families, I couldn’t resist the invitation. This is an important first step in establishing a peace process which includes women and civil community.
Many hurdles must still be jumped, including getting support from three governments—North Korea, South Korea and the United States representing the United Nations Command—but the UN command at the DMZ has said it would facilitate our crossing once the South Korean government gives its approval.
A small team of women are planning the historic walk of thirty international women peacemakers from twelve different countries. We hope to cross the DMZ on May 24th, 2015, International Women’s Disarmament Day. Some of the women participating are: Gloria Steinem, Hon.Chair; Ann Wright (USA); Suzuyo Takazato (Japan); Abigail Disney, (USA); and Hyun-Kyung Chung (SouthKorea/USA).
"We will tell our Korean sisters and brothers we love them and that we join in solidarity with them in their work for a demilitarized, peaceful Korea."
Many people have asked me, "Why are they planning to walk across the DMZ that separates North and South Korea?" Maybe the real question should be, "Why not?!"
In many countries around the world, women are walking and calling for an end to war and for a de-militarized world. Since the DMZ is the most highly militarized border in the world, women peacemakers believe it is only right, as part of their lifelong work for disarmament and demilitarization in their own countries, to walk in Korea, in solidarity with their Korean sisters. The women of Korea want an end to the 70 year old conflict. They want to reunify millions of Korean families.
Seventy years ago, as the Cold War was being waged, the United States unilaterally drew the line across the 38th parallel—later with the former Soviet Union’s agreement—dividing an ancient country that had just suffered 35 years of Japanese colonial occupation. Koreans had no decision-making power to stop their country from being divided. Now seven decades later, the conflict on the Korean peninsula threatens peace in the Asia Pacific and throughout our world.
These international women recognize that one of the greatest tragedies arising out of man-made cold war politics is the tearing apart of Korean families. Millions of families have been physically separated for seven decades. In Korean culture, family relations are deeply important. Although there was a period of reconciliation during the Sunshine Policy years between the two Korean governments where many families had the joy of reunion, the vast majority remain separated. Many elders died before the chance of reunion with their families; most are getting old now.
How wonderful if the governments of both North and South Korea would allow the remaining elders the joy and peace of mind of being able to meet, kiss and hold their loved ones before they die. We are all hope and pray that this will happen for the Korean elders, and we will walk for it.
The economy of North Korea has drastically suffered due to western sanctions and isolationist policies. While North Korea has come a long way from the 1990s when up to one million died from famine, many people are still very poor and lack the basic necessities for survival.
During a visit to Seoul in 2007, one aid worker told me most people in South Korea would love to pack their car with food, and drive an hour up the road into North Korea to help their Korean brothers and sisters—if only he governments would agree to open the DMZ and let them cross over to meet each other! Many of us take for granted that we can visit our families. We find it hard to imagine that pain of separation still felt by Korean families who cannot travel an hour up the road, through the DMZ, to visit their families. That's why we're hoping to take a stand and make this walk for peace.
With its barbed wire, armed soldiers, and thousands of explosive landmines, the DMZ remains a tragic manifestation of how much the Korean people have suffered and lost from war. Yet in all my encounters with the people of Korea, I have only heard over and over again the deep wish to be reconciled and to live in peace with each other.
In recognizing the wishes of the Korean people, I believe the political leaders of North Korea, South Korea, the United States and all governments involved should help Korea move from war to peace.
Our group of thirty women from over a dozen countries will travel to Korea to listen to the hopes, dreams, and stories of our Korean sisters and brothers, and to tell them we love them, and that we join in solidarity with them in their work for a demilitarized, peaceful Korea.
We international women want to walk for peace between North and South Korea, and we hope the three governments will support our crossing into the DMZ, in an effort to show solidarity with our Korean brothers and sisters. We hope our gesture will plant a seed that one day will let the Korean people, too, cross the DMZ to reach out to their loved ones. These steps will lead to reconciliation, friendship, and trust, and put an end to the division and fear which keeps them in a state of war.