The Inspiring Reason Gloria Steinem Is Walking from South to North Korea


On Wednesday, Gloria Steinem announced her plan to walk across the Demilitarized Zone that divides North and South Korea, the Associated Press reported.

Steinem, who serves as honorary co-chair to the organizing group Women Cross DMZ, will join lead activist Christine Ahn and about two dozen others for the May 24th action. The activists will walk "with Korean women, north and south, to call for an end to the Korean War and for a new beginning for a reunified Korea," according to the organization's website. 

The walk, which will take place on International Women's Day for Disarmament as well as the 70th anniversary of the Korean Peninsula's division, will serve as an inspiring symbol of peace and is a testament to the continued power of on-the-ground activism.

"It's hard to imagine any more physical symbol of the insanity of dividing human beings," Steinem said, according to the AP. "To me, to walk across [the DMZ] has huge, huge, huge importance."

It's clear Steinem is not the singular leader of the movement, although this is how most mainstream media coverage has portrayed it. Rather, this is a collective effort lead by many women, including Nobel peace laureates Mairead Maguire and Leymah Gbowee — incredible leaders in their own right, who were instrumental in bringing peace to their own war-torn nations: Maguire petitioned and organized marches calling for peace in Northern Ireland, while Gbowee organized protests in Liberia that culminated in holding hostage the delegates responsible for peace talks until they reached agreement.

Bebeto Matthews/AP

The group's announcement, however, has received mixed responses. Namhee Lee, professor of modern Korean history at the University of California, Los Angeles, told ThinkProgress she supports the action, stating, "While it may not achieve anything, it brings attention of the world (and the participants themselves) to the terrible cost that both [North and South] Koreans have to bear in maintaining the DMZ and the division." 

Others, however, feel raising awareness isn't enough. "Given the fact that both Koreas have been extremely active already this year in military drills, it's hard to see how such an activity is going to be the longed-for game changer," Chinese history lecturer Adam Cathcart also told Think Progress.

The fact remains that no matter how it is achieved, peace in this region is urgently needed. An estimated 3 million people, about half civilian, were killed during the Korean War, and while the United Nations vowed to sign a peace treaty within three months of the 1953 ceasefire agreement, more than 60 years have passed without evidence of a single signature, Women Cross DMZ notes

"The unresolved Korean conflict gives all governments in the region justification to further militarize and prepare for war, depriving funds for schools, hospitals, and the welfare of the people and the environment," the website states. "That's why women are walking for peace, to reunite families, and end the state of war in Korea."

"We are walking to invite all concerned to imagine a new chapter in Korean history, marked by dialogue, understanding, and — ultimately — forgiveness," organizer Ahn said, according to the Times. Hopefully, these courageous activists will accomplish just that.

h/t Think Progress