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North Korea’s markets see rise in imported feminine hygiene products

The number of feminine hygiene products and other imports from China available in North Korean markets has increased significantly. As a result, prices are now much lower than during the pandemic, but North Korean women are reluctant to buy the products because of financial difficulties.

“Women’s sanitary pads and other factory-made goods are imported from China and distributed in marketplaces, resulting in more product options and much lower prices. But North Korean women in financial difficulties are still unable to buy the items imported from China,” a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Friday, speaking on condition of anonymity. 

According to the source, as recently as last year there were more local feminine hygiene products than imported ones on North Korean marketplaces, but the recent influx of imported goods has driven down prices.

When North Korea closed the border during the pandemic, market vendors ran low on imported goods. In a marketplace in the city of Pyongsong, the price of a set of 10 Chinese-made sanitary napkins shot up from KPW 4,000 to KPW 15,000. But with imported goods recently arriving in greater quantities, the same set of sanitary napkins is now selling for the much lower price of KPW 7,500, the source said.

While North Korean sanitary napkins are cheaper, at KPW 3,500 for a set of 10, women have not favored them in the past because of their poor quality, a mindset that persists today.

“The sanitary pads made here don’t feel very comfortable and tend to get dislodged. They’re also not very absorbent and menstrual flow sometimes leaks out the sides, so women prefer to buy imported napkins that are of better quality. But while prices have come down, they’re still too expensive for most people to buy,” the source said.

Before the pandemic, three in five North Korean women used Chinese-made sanitary pads, but now the figure is closer to one in five, the source said.

“Before COVID-19, young people used a lot of disposable pads because they were embarrassed by the idea of cloth or gauze pads. But now people are so desperate that even young people are using homemade sanitary napkins made of cloth. The locally produced napkins are of such poor quality that women would rather not use them even if they could afford them,” the source said.

North Koreans shun more expensive Chinese goods in some cases

Recent imports include large quantities of Chinese-made toothbrushes and toothpaste, bringing prices that had soared from KPW 600–700 to KPW 10,000–12,000 during the pandemic down to KPW 3,000 per toothbrush and KPW 4,500 per tube of toothpaste at a marketplace in Pyongsong. That represents a decrease of 60–70% from pandemic-era prices, but they are still twice as expensive as domestic products, which are in the KPW 1,000–2,000 range.

“When it comes to toothbrushes and toothpaste, people often use North Korean products because they are cheaper without worrying too much about quality. Toothbrushes are often used for almost a year until the bristles are all bent and frayed,” the South Pyongan Province source said. 

While Chinese-made feminine hygiene products are widely available in marketplaces in Hyesan, Yanggang Province, merchants are not profiting from the goods as financially strapped locals are reluctant to open their wallets.

“Various women’s products are on sale in Hyesan’s markets, but people just browse without buying. Customers prefer to buy imports because cheap local products have a bad reputation, regardless of their actual quality. But since they can’t afford the imports, they just browse the selection or ask about the prices,” another source in Yanggang Province told Daily NK.

Translated by David Carruth. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

Daily NK works with a network of sources living in North Korea, China, and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous for security reasons. For more information about Daily NK’s network of reporting partners and information-gathering activities, please visit our FAQ page here.

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March 25, 2024 at 12:30PM

by DailyNK(North Korean Media)

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