Sexual violence also widespread, claims defector.
Women in North Korea’s army train so hard they stop menstruating, sometimes for years, a defector living in the South has claimed.
Female soldiers have also endured widespread sexual violence and harassment, Lee So Yeon said, and were forced to clean and cook while men were not.
“After six months to a year of service, we wouldn’t menstruate any more because of malnutrition and the stressful environment,” she told the BBC.
Her female comrades “were glad because the situation is so bad if they were having periods too that would have been worse”.
One woman she spoke to had not menstruated for two years, she added.
The use – and re-use – of basic cotton pads during periods was common, Ms Lee said, while showers were merely hoses connected to mountain streams that sometimes delivered snakes and frogs into bathing facilities.
Mattresses made of rice husks soaked up sweat and developed an unpleasant smell, she claimed.
Women serve in North Korea’s military for seven years, while men serve 10.
Ms Lee has previously said there is “no concept of dignity for women” in the North Korean army.
In 2015 Pyongyang announced it would distribute sanitary pads in most female units, the BBC reported.
However, earlier this year Radio Free Asia – a US-funded station – reported shortages of those essential supplies.
The same report cited anonymous sources as alleging that “female soldiers suffer constant sexual abuse from their male commanders”.