UNITED NATIONS – Making the ultimate statement in Korean relations, Gloria Steinem and other prominent women on Wednesday announced their plans for a rare and risky walk across the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea to call for reunification.
The DMZ is the world's most fortified border, with the two countries still technically at war. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers face off across the heavily mined zone.
Organizers of the effort called WomenCrossDMZ.org on Wednesday said they hope for 30 women, including two Nobel Peace laureates, to cross from North Korea to South Korea on May 24, which is International Women's Day for Disarmament.
The walk also marks the 70th anniversary of the division of the Korean Peninsula.
The women say they are still seeking approval from both countries and the United Nations. There was no immediate response from North Korea's mission to the U.N., the channel the women are using for their request. There was no immediate response from the U.N.
"It's hard to imagine any more physical symbol of the insanity of dividing human beings," said Steinem, a longtime advocate for women who has visited the South Korean side of the DMZ. "To me, to walk across it has huge, huge, huge importance."
The women said they also soon will launch an online petition calling on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a South Korean, as well as President Barack Obama and the leaders of North and South Korea to take the necessary actions to finally end the Korean War with a peace treaty. The war ended in 1953 with the armistice.
The DMZ is one of the most highly charged places in the world. When Pope Francis last year held a mass on his visit to South Korea, Seoul Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung dedicated a "crown of thorns" to the pope made from its barbed wire.
The women would not say how or whether they would go ahead with the march, from either side, if permission from either North or South Korea does not come. They said they take heart from successful crossings of the DMZ by five New Zealanders with motorbikes in 2013 and by 32 Korean Russians by motorcade last year. Both had permission from both sides.
This new attempt includes Nobel peace laureates Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, who worked to end those long-running conflicts.
Christine Ahn, co-coordinator of this march and head of the group Women Demilitarize the Zone, told reporters that they received a letter last year from North Korea's U.N. mission that said its officials "understand the significance of this occasion and the important peacemaking role that women have played throughout history."
She said that working through their adviser, former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson, the U.N. Command at the DMZ has said that they would be willing to facilitate their crossing once South Korea's government gives its apptroval.
"The DMZ can and must be crossed to begin to heal the divide Korean Peninsula," Ahn said.
She said that given North Korea's almost complete closed-off stance to the rest of the world, it has so far been impossible to reach out to women there who might be interested in marching with this effort from Pyongyang to the DMZ.