[November 29, 2018] Providing Humanitarian Aid in North Korea and Other Authoritarian Settings

The Soh Jaipil Circle on Contemporary Korean Affairs

“Providing Humanitarian Aid in North Korea and Other Authoritarian Settings”

Thursday, November 29, 2018
4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Room 505, Elliott School of International Affairs
The George Washington University
1957 E St NW, Washington, DC 20052


Increasingly, international and domestic aid workers provide humanitarian aid in countries with authoritarian governments. One of the many dilemmas is ensuring that the most vulnerable receive the allocated aid while concurrently liaising and coordinating with national and local government entities who often don’t prioritize the needs of their at-risk populations.  They may have little interest in channeling program outputs to populations targeted by the project or else perceive of the aid as an opportunity to divert funding or commodities to their allies – whether that be their family, tribe, business partners, members of the military, influential persons/entities, or others.  Finally, they will often establish regulations to ensure that aid workers have limited opportunities to visit project sites.

Despite these obstacles, aid organizations should make every effort to ensure that they can be physically present in the country over the life of the project. The potential benefits to be gained by both the aid organization and the population that aid workers come in contact with can potentially exceed the obstacles and frustrations experienced by the NGO.

During a six-month period in 1998 and 1999, the presenter was employed by the Private Voluntary Organization Consortium for North Korea (PVOC), a consortium of five US non-governmental relief and development agencies.  Along with six other colleagues, she carried out project assessments and the subsequent monitoring of the distribution of 150,000 MT of US Government-contributed maize and wheat through 152 food-for-work projects in seven provinces in North Korea.  The projects focused on the repair of embankments that had been damaged by the previous years’ floods.  This job entailed repeated contact with as many as 300 North Korean senior counterpart officials.  Ms. Gavitt was one of the three Korean speakers on the team.

Christy Gavitt
Christy Gavitt began her overseas career as a Peace Corps volunteer in South Korea from 1974-76, followed by a year-long internship with CARE-Korea. She then worked overseas in international relief and development programs for 32 years, 19 of those years with CARE-USA.  Her assignments included emergency programs in Pakistan, Somalia, Chad, Mozambique, Somaliland, and Rwanda.  She subsequently did a six-month consultancy during the famine in North Korea.  From 2000, she managed HIV/AIDS and mother-child health programs in Mali, Togo, Namibia, and Tanzania. After returning to the US, she worked for over five years as the Senior Health Coordinator with the American Red Cross in Washington DC.  She is currently a global health consultant. Christy received her Masters in International Administration from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont, and her Masters in Public Health from Tulane University in New Orleans.
Gregg Brazinsky

Gregg A. Brazinsky works on U.S.-East Asian relations and East Asian international history. He is interested in the flow of commerce, ideas, and culture among Asian countries and across the Pacific. He is proficient in Mandarin Chinese and Korean. He is the author of two books: Winning the Third World (2017), which focuses on Sino-American Rivalry in the Third World and Nation Building in South Korea (2007), which explores U.S.-South Korean relations during the Cold War.

Lecture Series: “Democratization and Gender in Postcolonial South Korea”

On October 31, 2018, Eunkyung Kim, Research Professor of Research Institute of Asian Women at Sookmyung Women’s University and Administrative Director of Korean Association of Women’s History, gave a lecture on “Democratization and Gender in Postcolonial South Korea.” Gender discriminations were concealed and expected to disappear after democratization. However, hate speech and violence against women and sexual minorities not only persisted, but  increased after Korean democracy has been stabilized. Dr. Kim questioned what democratization meant for women in contemporary South Korea.

Dr. Kim opened the lecture by sharing her experience as a college student. During the democratization movement of South Korea, young intellectuals were involved in series of protests. Female students had erased their femininity by not wearing make-up and skirts and using terms such as ‘hyung’– a term used by male to refer to an older male – to refer to their male counterparts, because femininity was perceived as emotional, passive, and wasteful. At the same time, some female students utilized those feminine qualities to avoid arrest.

Dr. Kim also introduced two Korean films: To You, From Me (1994) and Madame Freedom (1956) to address society’s perception on familial values, women’s sexuality, and intellectuals who led the protests. In the film To You, From Me, the director criticizes the popular intellectual ideas, by displaying an elite male activist expressing his arrogance and patriarchal attitude to the heroine. In the scene in which he engages in a violent, forced intercourse with her while yelling “Anti-fascism, anti-Americanism.”, the director points out his hypocritical behavior of committing another form of violent crime as he criticizes authoritarianism. Madame Freedom depicts western influence as threat to Korean ethnic values and traditions. Dr. Kim addressed that male intellectuals at the time were concerned about women becoming “Americanized” and spoiling the purity of Korean ethnicity. The main character in the film was an archetype of “wise mother, good wife” in a traditional patriarchal household until she was introduced to western culture. She began to have an affair with her dancing partner next door, who was “Americanized”. The man she has an affair with decorated his house with American goods and always spoke about liberty and human rights. Her husband was also having an affair, but his infidelity was portrayed as one that did not threaten the marriage and familial values. As the film explicitly depicts, the South Korean society perceived western culture as something that destroys traditional gender roles and alters female sexuality.

Dr. Kim then addressed the New Family Law and its implication on everyday lives. While the law seemed to support gender equality, it was actually gender discriminatory. The New Family Law allowed women to take legal actions, buy and sell property without permission from their spouses and even allowed free divorce. Male lawmakers were not concerned with women’s rights, but tried to evaluate women’s issues under a broader scope of democratization and modernization. Dr. Kim concluded the lecture by stating that the New Family Law did not reflect the voices of women, failed to break gender inequality, and did not enhance gender sensitization.

Co-sponsored event by Partnerships-International Strategies-Asia (PISA) and GW Institute for Korean Studies: “North Korean Art: Transcending Ideologies”

On October 24, 2018, GWIKS and Partnerships for International Strategies in Asia (PISA) co-sponsored a lecture by B. G. Muhn, a visual artist and professor at Georgetown University Department of Art and Art History, on “North Korean Art: Transcending Ideologies”. Dr. Muhn, a North Korean art scholar, shared his experiences of traveling to North Korea with the audience. In North Korea, Dr. Muhn had visited art museums, Pyongyang University of Fine Arts, and studios of North Korean artists, whom he had interviewed his research pursuit on Chosonhwa.

Dr. Muhn explained that Chosonhwa, traditional Oriental ink wash painting on rice paper, is a unique form of art that integrates North Korean political, cultural, and historical context. Chosonhwa displays Socialist Realism, revealing the North Korean political ideology embedded within the society. Dr. Muhn pointed out that in some of the paintings, characters maintain surprisingly aloof and peaceful composure despite the chaotic surrounding conditions, such as stormy sea and battle. He claimed that such depiction derives from the aspiration to maintain peace and dignity in audacious situations, perhaps a prevailing Confucian ideology.

In addition to the political ideology it displays, Chosonhwa possesses unique styles of outlines, use of water, color, and brushstrokes that distinguish it from Hankukhwa, the South Korean counterpart. For example, Dr. Muhn mentioned the vibrant use of color and delicate brushstrokes unique to Chosonhwa.

With the development of distinctive characteristics, Chosonhwa has considerably contributed to the unique characteristics of North Korean contemporary art since the late 1960s. In the exhibition, “North Korean Art: Paradoxical Realism”, at the 2018 Gwangju Biennale, Dr. Muhn has acknowledged the significance of North Korean art by solely showcasing Chosonhwa works.

September/October Blog Topic: 2018 Inter-Korean Summits

Topic: 2018 Inter-Korean Summits


Background: In April of 2018, North and South Koreas held a summit on the South Korean side of the Joint Security Area. This was the first inter-Korean summit in eleven years and third overall. During the summit, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea and Kim Jong-un, supreme leader of North Korea, discussed major political matters such as denuclearization and humanitarian needs in North Korea. A month later in May, the two leaders met again to discuss Kim Jong-un’s summit with President Donald Trump in June. In September, a third 2018 inter-Korean Summit will be held in Pyongyang, North Korean capital.


Guiding Questions:

– How will these inter-Korean summits impact the relations of North and South Koreas in the near future and in the long run?

– What are some of the significant matters that you believe should be discussed in the Inter-Korean summits?

– Meeting with President Moon was only the second time Kim Jong-un had met with another head of state since he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in March. Since then, Kim had been actively engaging in meeting with heads of states. Why is North Korea suddenly interacting with the rest of the world after decades of isolation and pledging to denuclearize?

– How will these summits impact the relations of North Korea and the United States?

– Recent inter-Korean summits had shed light to prospects of Korean reunification. Is Korea likely to reunify in the near future? What are some of the obstacles the two states must overcome to reunify?


The questions above are only suggestions; please feel free to take your own creative approach to the topic!


Submission Instructions:
– Posts should be approximately 300-1,000 words.
– Submissions will be accepted until Saturday, November 3rd. 



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