The policy of the United States toward North Korea can be summed up succinctly: Sanctions, sanctions and more sanctions. The U.S. believes its policy of "maximum pressure" will cause North Korea to denuclearize, but it appears to be having the opposite effect, hardening North Korea's resistance and strengthening its resolve to keep pursuing its nuclear ambitions.

Not only have the "maximum pressure" sanctions applied since 2016 failed to change policies in Pyongyang, they have led to grave human costs.

New research commissioned by Korea Peace Now!, a women-led global campaign to end the Korean War, concludes that recent United Nations' Security Council sanctions are severely affecting the civilian population, impeding the delivery of much-needed humanitarian aid, causing a sharp decline in foreign trade and pushing the economy into a recession.

These impacts are especially hard on women, who comprise 89% of those working in North Korea's burgeoning retail trade. As observed in other sanctioned countries, when local market activity declines, women lose their income as merchants, making it more difficult for them to feed their families and increasing their vulnerability to violence and exploitation, including sex trafficking.

In fact, some sanctions explicitly target industries dominated by female workers. In 2017, for example, the U.N. Security Council banned textile exports from North Korea; women represent 82% of workers in that country's textile and apparel industries.

Sanctions also significantly hamper the work of international humanitarian organizations in North Korea, tying up their funding and preventing or delaying shipments of badly needed humanitarian goods. The sanctions have blocked the transfer of medical appliances and caused shortages of life-saving medicines.

Last year, due to sanctions-related delays and funding shortfalls, the U.N. Population Fund reached only 1% of the 341,500 pregnant women it was hoping to provide with emergency reproductive kits. It is estimated that 72 pregnant women and 1,200 infants likely died as a result.

The U.N. Security Council claims its sanctions are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population. The body's sanctions committee can grant case-by-case humanitarian exemptions, but, to date, these efforts have been insufficient to prevent negative impacts.

Sanctions significantly degrade women's economic status and threaten their social rights, particularly in developing countries. While men also suffer economically under sanctions, women are typically already at an economic disadvantage apart from sanctions due to preexisting patterns of discrimination, and thus tend to experience disproportionate effects.

Yet, women have little influence over the decisions that are allegedly needed to lift the sanctions -- whether in the male-dominated North Korean state, the U.N. Security Council or the Trump administration.

All this is happening amid mounting evidence that women's participation in peacebuilding makes peace easier to achieve and more likely to last. In fact, scholars have shown that gender equality is a greater predictor of peace than a country's level of democracy or economic wealth. President Trump himself has signed legislation supporting women's participation in peace and security processes.

It's therefore time to chart a different path to peace -- one that relaxes rather than tightens.

Marie O'Reilly is an expert on gender, peace and security issues and a co-author of "The Human Costs and Gendered Impact of Sanctions on North Korea."

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