February 22, 2024

How women run the small business world inside North Korea

Capitalist markets inside the country have propelled many women to be the primary breadwinners of their families

North Korea, while maintaining the old rhetoric of “national Stalinism,” experienced the emergence and rapid growth of private enterprise – semi-legal, but nonetheless powerful. 

The vast majority of rich entrepreneurs in North Korea are women running small- and medium-size businesses – workshops, eateries, kiosks and small shops. Women make up some 80% of vendors selling merchandise at marketplaces and are vastly overrepresented in the small business ownership class. Of course, owing to North Korea’s rigid patriarchy, the higher up the rung one goes in North Korea it becomes increasingly hard for women to break through, but nonetheless many are thriving in the country’s capitalist spaces.