Comfort Women Issue as an Inconvenient Truth – Do you know what ‘Comfort Women’ means?

Comfort women is a historical term referring to women who were forced to provide sexual service to Japanese soldiers at military brothels called “comfort stations” established by the Japanese military in its occupied territories between 1932 and 1945. (Global Research, May 2015)”

귀향 포스터 2016Recently, there has been a Korean movie, ‘귀향 (Gui-Hyang)’, titled ‘Spirits’ Homecoming’ in English released on comfort women during the world war II, most of whom were from Korea, but also from countries like China, Taiwan, and Netherland. “Estimates vary as to how many women were involved, with numbers ranging from as low as 20,000 (by Japanese historian Ikuhiko Hata) to as high as 360,000 to 410,000 (by a Chinese scholar); the exact numbers are still being researched and debated (WIKIPEDIA on Comfort Women).” Most of these girls were recruited by being deceived as workers in factories to support their families at the age of only 13 to 15 but then they were forcibly taken to Japanese comfort military station to work as sex slaves. A lot of them were killed at war but despite torturing time there were survivals who came back after the war and lived their life in silence. In Korea currently there are very few of these former comfort woman who are left alive aged around 90 and asking for apology and reparation from the Japanese government.

photo 2Since this is an issue of gender-based violence, especially violence against girls as well as post-conflict issue which hasn’t been solved yet despite its long history, I became interested in raising awareness of Comfort Women issue after seeing this movie. (which is still on screen at Fairfax in Virginia. I strongly recommend you to see it.) Moreover, there have been a lot of arguments on the term ‘comfort women’ which is “a translation of the Japanese ianfu (慰安婦), a euphemism for ‘prostitute(s).’ (WIKIPEDIA on Comfort Women)” This term was coined after the name of the Japanese military station, so although currently they are known more widely as ‘comfort women’, a number of scholars are arguing that ‘sex slaves’ are the right term because it is biased.

Now you can easily imagine that comfort women issues seem very simple but the reality was not. There have been challenges for these women to finally get apology. First, “Since private individuals often procured women, and there is no official documentation of direct orders to kidnap them, some claim that the Japanese government and military are not responsible for the coercion despite the survivals’ testimony. Also, legal and political questions include whether Japan has sufficiently accepted responsibility for the atrocity with the establishment of Asian Women’s Fund (Global Research, May 2015).”

For your information, “the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Economic and Social Council, Commission on the Status of Women, Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and Committee Against Torture have issued reports and advisories urging Japan to accept some or all of the victims’ demands. Legislatures in the United States (House of Representatives), the Netherlands, Canada, European Union, South Korea, and Taiwan have passed similar resolutions, as did the State of California, the New York Senate, and other legislative bodies around the world (Global Research, May 2015).”

photo 3Nevertheless, a lot of people in Korea now blame not only the Japanese government but also the Korean government for not taking proactive action on this issue and meanwhile quite many of former comfort women passed away. The critics are arguing that both governments are waiting until these women die out so the issue sinks under the water. On the other hand, this issue seems quite tricky to solve due to the historical background of colonial period as well as current obstacles like international diplomatic relations. Both governments seem to deal with this historical scars so carefully not as to stir each of their people’s negative emotion. Arguments around this issue seem to never stop but only worsen the situation. Meanwhile, these very old former comfort women have stood up and they are speaking up for themselves.

photo1As a fellow in Gender & Empowerment team at CARE USA, ‘귀향 (Gui-Hyang)’, ‘Spirits’ Homecoming’ helped me think about the issue not just as a historical Korean movie but as sexual violence against women in conflict zone. Since I came to DC I have often attended sessions on sexual violence against women in Syria and DRC. Sexual violence against women is still often used as a tool in many ways, i.e. to threaten the enemy in conflict zones. I questioned myself why these same horrible things are still happening, why those facts are buried, what we can do about these women. Then, I had an idea that having conversations on this issue with people in DC might help us have insight in depth.

Therefore, my friends and I decided to invite the movie director and show the movie in the universities in DC for those who can’t afford to go outside DC to see the movie. The director, Cho Jung-Rae, agreed on showing the movie without commission and also on his visit. Some of these schools already agreed on providing their lecture halls and sponsorship for showing and the talk with the director. This great tour will be happening sometime in fall this year. When the time comes, I hope my fellow fellows join us to appreciate the movie and the talk.