Empowering Change: Collaborating with the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) to Enhance North Korean Human Rights

North Korean defectors discussing various aspects of human rights at one of the sessions organized by EUM and supported by the Human Rights Foundation on May 20. Some participants are said to have never received human rights education before until they attended this session.

SEOUL – In a world where human rights are often taken for granted, there are still places where these fundamental freedoms are not guaranteed. North Korea, a country notorious for its human rights violations, is one such place, and many North Korean defectors coming to South Korea generally have never had the chance to learn human rights. However, change is on the horizon, thanks to the collaborative efforts of the New York-based NGO, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), and several Korean human rights NGOs.

Early this year, the HRF provided grants to several local NGOs, enabling them to carry out crucial work in the field of human rights. One such initiative is an education program developed by the EUM Research Institute, focusing on various aspects of human rights relevant to women’s actual lives.

On a recent Saturday afternoon in Kwanghwamoon, Seoul, ten North Korean women gathered around a U-shaped classroom table as part of their series workshop organized by the EUM. Their purpose? To learn and discuss key topics on human rights, including its definition, human rights sensitivity, equality, recognition of difference, mutual respect, and the history of the Universal Human Rights Declaration.

On this particular day, the session’s main topics were gender equality and sensitivity, respecting boundaries, sexual and gender violence, and digital sexual violence. The instructor, drawing from her personal experiences, emphasized the importance of studying gender and boundary issues. Participants were encouraged to share their personal accounts of gender and boundary violations, with several comparing their experiences in North Korea and South Korea.

The impact of this program was evident in the post-session survey. In their first project report, the host organization noted that the participants rated their satisfaction with the lecture contents, materials, delivery, and instructor qualification as “very satisfied.” The average rating for each question was above 4 on a scale of 1 to 5, indicating that the program met participants’ expectations.

One participant reflected, “I’ve never learned about women’s rights. But today I found this topic very interesting… the lecture was easy to follow, and I liked the game a lot.” Another participant learned about the importance of gender issues and the availability of resources like the Digital Gender Violence Consultation Center.

Looking ahead, the EUM Research Institute plans to continue this transformative work. Two more lectures are planned for the next period, with a focus on creating a harmonious class setting and providing the healthiest food for participants.

This collaboration between the Human Rights Foundation and the EUM Research Institute is a shining example of how NGOs can work together to bring about positive change. By empowering North Korean women with knowledge and understanding of their rights, they are taking significant steps toward improving human rights in North Korea. This initiative is a testament to the power of education and the enduring spirit of human resilience.

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