2015 International Women Walk for Peace and Reunification of Korea


Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate – TRANSCEND Media Service

Mairead Maguire

Mairead Maguire

Delegation Visits North/South Korea May 19–25, 2015

The year 2013 marked the 60th anniversary of the Armistice Agreement that ended the Korean War. The temporary ceasefire has never been replaced with a Peace Treaty and the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) continues to divide the country. The DMZ with its barbed wire, armed soldiers on both sides, and littered with thousands of explosive landmines, is the most militarized border in the world.

Seventy years ago, as the Cold War was brewing, the United States unilaterally drew the line across the 38th parallel – with the former Soviet Union’s agreement – dividing an ancient country that had just suffered 35 years of Japanese colonial occupation.   Koreans had no desire to be divided, or decision-making power to stop their country from being divided; now seven decades later the conflict on the Korean peninsula threatens peace in Asia Pacific and throughout our world.

One of the greatest tragedies arising out of this man-made cold war politics and isolation is the tearing apart of Korean families and their physical separation from each other. In Korean culture, family relations are deeply important and many families have been painfully separated for 70 years. Although there was a period of reconciliation during the Sunshine Policy years between the two Korean governments where some families had the joy of reunion, but this has stopped due to a souring of relationships between North and South Korea   Also due to sanctions and isolationist policies put on by the International community the North Korean people, and their economy has continued to suffer.   Whilst North Korea has come a long way from the l990s when up to one million died from famine, many people are poor, and feel isolated and marginalized from South Korea and the outside world.

As members of the one human family, and in order to show human solidarity and empathize with our North Korean family, to bring global attention to the ‘forgotten’ Korean war, and to call for an engagement with North Korea, and a Peace Treaty, a group of international women came together to visit North/South Korea and walk across the DMZ.

On 24th May, 2015, International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament, thirty women peacemakers from 15 countries, made a historic crossing of the two mile wide de-militarized zone DMZ from North to South Korea.

The Delegation included Feminist Author/activist, Gloria Steinem, two Nobel peace laureates, Leymah Gbowee and myself, Christine Ahn, co-ordinator (whose dream it was to cross the DMZ) and long-time peace activists, human rights defenders, spiritual leaders, Korean experts.

During our four-day visit to North Korea, before crossing on May 24th the DMZ, we had the privilege and joy of meeting many North Korean Women.   During a Peace symposium in Pyongyang we listened as North Korean women, spoke of their horrific experiences of war and division, and listened as some of our delegation shared how they had mobilized to end conflict and build peace in their communities. We also participated in huge peace walks in Pyongyang, and Kaesong which many thousands of North Korean women in beautiful traditional Korean costumes participated in. The women carried banners calling for the Reunification of families and of Korea, a Peace Treaty and No War. The walks were deeply moving and especially in Kaesong where families came out onto their flat balconies to wave as we passed. The 4 day visit was excellently organized with visits to hospital, schools, concerts, etc., and I personally was overwhelmed by the kindness shown by our hosts, to our delegation.   I must admit before this visit, my first to the North I never realized how deeply passionate are the North Koreans for Reunification with the South and how much they want to open the borders so they can welcome their South Korea families to visit and normalize relationships. North Koreans told us that Korean people, are one people. Though they have different political ideologies, they speak the same language, have the same culture, and share a painful history of war and division.   North Koreans have been isolated and cut off from their families in South Korea and from the rest of the world,   and sanctions put on against them. As these policies of isolation have not solved any problems our delegates believe that a new approach of engagement and a peace treaty is necessary.

Our walk brought renewed attention to the importance of world solidarity in ending the Korean conflict, particularly since the l953 Armistice agreement was signed by North Korea, (South Korea did not sign) China, and the United states on behalf of the UN command that included sixteen countries. It helped highlight the responsibility of the international community, whose governments were complicit in the division of Korea 70 years ago, to support Korea’s peaceful reconciliation and reunification.

The challenges of overcoming Koreas division became apparent in the complex negotiations over our DMZ crossing between North and South Korea, as well as with the UN Command, which has formal jurisdiction over the DMZ.   Although we had hoped to cross at Panmunjom, the ‘Truce village’ where the armistice was signed, we decided after South Korea and UN Command, denied our crossing that we would take the route agreed by all parties in the spirit of compromise lest our actions further strain the already tense North-South relationship.

In Seoul we met with some opposition.   Although we did not meet with any heads of state or endorse any political or economic system, maintaining a neutral stance throughout, and yet it was apparent that divisions within South Korea itself manifested in some of the ideologically divided reception and reactions that we witnessed. However, the Peace walk in Panju, outside Seoul and concert, hosted by the Mayor of Seoul was well attended and we received a warm reception from many South Korean families. We were grateful to the South Korean women peacemakers who made a visit to Seoul possible, and to the Women’s organizations, who hosted us so graciously in the North of Korea.

Our International women’s peace walk we recognize is only a beginning and we will continue our focus to increase civilian exchanges and women’s leadership, highlighting the obligation of all parties involved to decrease militarization and move towards a peace treaty. We therefore urge increased engagement at every level civilian, economic, cultural, and academic, government, and especially citizen to citizen diplomacy in peacebuilding, as an alternative to full military conflict, which is not an option.

During our talks in Korea, we stressed that peace is a necessary condition for the full realization of human rights, and that Human rights and peace are integral one to the other.

At the end of our visit, our Delegation called global attention to the need for a Peace Treaty to finally end the Korean war, to unite families long separated by the Korean division, and to assure women’s participation in a peace process.


Mairead Corrigan Maguire, co-founder of Peace People, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment. She won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her work for peace in Northern Ireland. Her book The Vision of Peace (edited by John Dear, with a foreword by Desmond Tutu and a preface by the Dalai Lama) is available from www.wipfandstock.com. She lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. See: www.peacepeople.com.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 13 Jul 2015.

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