May 24 is International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament. On May 24, 1981, 49 women from 11 European countries gathered to proclaim the day “International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament,” and on May 24, 1983, about 1 million women gathered to speak out against nuclear weapons and the arms race and to call for peace. Since then, May 24 has been observed as a day when women convey their collective desire for peace and disarmament.
In Korea, Women Making Peace marked the day for the first time in 1997, and has consistently made demands for peace and disarmament from the perspective of women. On May 24, 2015, a group of 30 international women peace activists staged a historic crossing of the DMZ on the divided peninsula from North to South. Since then, the global women’s peace movement has made ending the Korean War and the signing of a peace agreement a key part of their agenda, which has led to the launch of the global campaign Korea Peace Now! Women Mobilizing to End the War.
This year, International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament comes amid an unprecedented global pandemic, creating huge challenges to Korea’s women, peace and civic movements. COVID-19 exacerbates conditions for the most vulnerable among us, with women often in charge of caring and nurturing, and part-time workers and those exposed to violence further subjected to harm. Due to gender discrimination structure, women face challenges in various sectors such as labor, social security, and health care, but the government does not consider gender in its response to COVID-19.
However, we welcome the positive changes that have been made as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The concept of “human security” that women, peace and civic movements has continuously urged for was reflected in the special address by President Moon Jae-in to mark three years in office. At the same time, the government also reduced the national defense budget by 1.46 trillion won in the process of supplementing the nation’s finances to provide emergency disaster support and to revitalize the economy. Although this is not a real cut in the arms acquisition budget because the schedule for payments, such as F-35 payments, has been postponed and the costs of overseas test evaluations is expected to be canceled, this could be a very meaningful start.
In order to improve human security and civil safety, we must create concrete changes in policy, especially toward peaceful disarmament.
To this end, we demand:
To South Korean Government
The South Korean government has set aside more than 50 trillion won in its defense budget in 2020, making South Korea the sixth-largest country in global military strength. However, the COVID-19 crisis shows us that military security does not protect the safety and livelihoods of citizens, and we should build society around a spirit of solidarity and cooperation, including strong quarantine measures, the protection of the vulnerable class, and the expansion of the economic safety net, while simultaneously managing and preventing the spread of the virus. Therefore, the South Korean government should make efforts to create a national financial structure that is suitable for the basic philosophy and values of human security mentioned by the president. The funding of the third supplementary budget to counter COVID-19 should be raised through drastic cuts in defense spending.
To the U.S. Government
Despite the COVID-19 crisis, the U.S. government has taken no action to lift sanctions on North Korea, exacerbating conditions that could lead to a humanitarian crisis. Also, the U.S. government is demanding the South Korean government pay an excessive share of U.S. military defense costs. The 6 trillion won allegedly demanded in the first place far exceeds the combined budget of 5.5 trillion won for the 2020 Ministry of Unification/Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the $1.3 billion recently demanded is also an excessive amount that is hard for the South Korean government to accommodate as we face a fiscal tightening due to COVID-19. Moreover, the U.S. has continued its reconnaissance flights with North Korea until recently, heightening tensions on the Peninsula. Therefore, the U.S. should stop its excessive demand for defense cost-sharing from South Korea while immediately halting military actions that create a crisis on the Korean Peninsula.
To the international community, including the United Nations
The international community, including the United Nations, should strive to end the Korean War. At the same time, efforts should be made to lift sanctions on North Korea, which further exacerbate the humanitarian crisis. In particular, in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, the United Nations and the international community should focus on mutual support for human security and civil safety, not arms proliferation and competition. At the same time, Northeast Asian countries should overcome the current crisis together through solidarity and cooperation through human security and joint security beyond militarism.
We women, peace and civil society organizations, gathered on May 24 to commemorate International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament, will work together for peace, unification and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula. To this end, we will join forces to ensure a formal end to the Korean War, the prevention of armed conflicts in the two Koreas and in Northeast Asia, the peaceful disarmament for this purpose, and sustainable peace through human security and common security. We will work to create peace not through military power but through the realization of citizens’ safety, women’s well-being, young people’s futures, and the transition of militarized areas to peace zones.
Organizations of the Press Conference on the occasion of May 24 International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament
Korean Women’s Movement for Peace (Korea Women’s Alliance, Women Making Peace, Korean Women’s Association United, National YWCA of Korea), Civil Peace Forum, Gangjung&Jeju Women Organizations, Gangjeong Peace Network, Jeju Women’s Association, Jeju Provincial Association of Korean Women Peasants’ Association(KWPA), Jeju Association for Women’s Rights, National Women’s Committee of PeaceRailWay, People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, Solidarity for Camptown Women’s Right in USAFIK, Teenager Movement Union Nalda, Women’s Division of The Southern Committee on June 15th Joint Declaration, Women Peace Readers