As debate about whether or not a “War on Women” in the United States rages on, it is sadly easy to forget that women in other countries are denied the basic freedoms that Americans take for granted. Democrats maintain that Republicans are anti-woman because they want to restrict government funding of contraception.  Meanwhile, for the vast majority of women who want to leave North Korea, human trafficking is the only ticket to freedom.

Through her new book Escape from North Korea, former Wall Street Journal deputy editor Melanie Kirkpatrick has shed light on the incredible stories of North Korea defectors, male and female.  As Kirkpatrick describes, the journey once was limited to bribing one’s way out of the North Korea and into China; but as the number of defectors has exploded, China has cracked down, increasingly sending refugees back to their erratic and unpredictable southern neighbor. The best hope a North Korean refugee has in China is to find a church, where they will most likely be fed and pointed toward people who can further aid their escape.

As dangerous as life in China can be for these refugees, it is particularly harsh for women.  Many of these North Korean women are sold to Chinese men as brides, for as little as $1,000.  As young Chinese women have left the farms to move to urban areas, the young men left behind are, according to Kirkpatrick, “often desperate—for companionship, for sex, for household help.” And it is North Korean brides who are making up for the gender imbalance in more rural regions. These brides are completely subservient to their Chinese husbands and are not surprisingly subject to abuse.

Nevertheless, many North Korean women have decided that being trafficked into forced marriages in China is still preferable to their current life in a state that exacts extreme physical and psychological torture – where “arrest, repatriation, and imprisonment” is commonplace. Tragically, however, the North Korean woman who has escaped to China often realizes that she “has exchanged one form of bondage for another.”

Kirkpatrick not only helps shed light on these destitute women, but also on the groups working to aid their escape. Organizations such as 318 Partners, a charitable organization based in Long Island, pay to rescue such women from such situation —sometimes as much as $3,000 per woman. 

So as we continue to discuss whether or not there is a “War on Women” in the United States, it’s important to put things into perspective.  For female refugees from North Korea, the war is not about negotiating a set of European-style, cradle-to-grave government policies; rather it’s a story of survival.

Jennifer Marsico is an IWF guest blogger and a senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute.