70 years on, ‘com­fort women’ still wait­ing


On the 70th an­niver­sary of the end of World War II, peo­ple gath­ered to­gether in Qing Cheng ( ) park in Taipei, Fri­day, to par­tic­i­pated in the In­ter­na­tional Me­mo­rial Day for Com­fort Women.

Wear­ing yel­low and pur­ple rib­bons sym­bol­iz­ing peace and a stance against sex­ual as­sault, peo­ple joined to­gether to par­tic­i­pate in the me­mo­rial cer­e­mony to mourn, while de­mand­ing that the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment apol­o­gize for its ac­tions. Through po­etry, mu­sic and theater, peo­ple com­mem­o­rated the com­fort women, many of whose names have al­ready been for­got­ten.

These women were forced to work in mil­i­tary broth­els for the Ja­panese army in World War II. Es­ti­mates in­di­cate there could be over 200,000 women from Tai­wan, South Korea, the Philip­pines and other re­gions who were forced to par­tic­i­pate in a mas­sive sexslave net­work.

Huang Shu-ling ( ), chair­man of the Taipei Women’s Recue Foun­da­tion, stated that de­bate dur­ing the re­cent protests against high school cur­ricu­lum guide­line changes over whether com­fort women acted vol­un­tar­ily raised public aware­ness, yet “what’s more im­por­tant is that peo­ple learn to take history and fem­i­nist hu­man rights se­ri­ously.” The me­mo­rial event is not only about com­fort women, Huang added, but also about pre­vent­ing sex­ual as­sault in the Armed Forces, and ban­ning sex­ual slav­ery in cur­rent times.

“They ( the com­fort women) are pre­cur­sors of the mod­ern fem­i­nism move­ment,” Huang said, stat­ing that stand­ing out as vic­tims and fight­ing the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment for over 20 years, they have let the world know and at­tach im­por­tance to this his­tor­i­cal fact.

NGOs de­manded that Ja­panese author­i­ties apol­o­gize for the bru­tal act, yet af­ter 70 years, the gov­ern­ment has yet to give a clear an­swer that has sat­is­fied the groups. Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe made a state­ment on Fri­day, ex­press­ing “ut­most grief” for the suf­fer­ing Ja­pan in­flicted in World War II, and made ref­er­ence to “women whose dig­nity was de­nied,” yet he did not specif­i­cally men­tion com­fort women.

There have been move­ments sup­port­ing com­fort women in Tai­wan for 24 years. Fifty-eight com­fort women, who are now se­nior cit­i­zens, stood up for each other, telling the public about their tragic ex­pe­ri­ences and rais­ing aware­ness. How­ever, only four are now left, still await­ing an of­fi­cial apol­ogy.

On Aug. 14 1991, Kim Hak-sun, a Korean vic­tim of sex­ual slav­ery, ac­cused the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment of the atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted against Asian women and set out to prove to the public that the sys­tem of com­fort women truly ex­isted. The me­mo­rial day was es­tab­lished to honor Kim and con­tinue the protest, hop­ing for an open apol­ogy from the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment.

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