South Korean “comfort women” still waiting for justice

By Dr Olivera Simic

From 1930 to 1945, the Japanese military systematically set up ‘comfort stations’ as it conscripted women and girls as young as 13 from occupied and colonized countries, forcing them to serve as sexual slaves. The Japanese military called them “comfort women”, but their life was anything but comfort: it was a painful experience which had been silenced after the WWII. The comfort stations were run, organised and supervised by the Japanese military. After defeat of Japan, many women victims of the systemic abuse were killed by the retreating Japanese army (or had died during the final air raid bombings). Some could not return back to their home countries. Only in the 1990s did women survivors start telling their stories, which were widely reported for the first time. Women started to step forward, tell their stories and demand acknowledgment and justice.

The Korean Council for Women Drafted in the Military Sexual Slavery based in Seoul is the non-governmental organisation that gathers women survivors and provides counselling services at the survivor’s home, organises human rights cams and offers medial service to survivors. It also runs a shelter called “Our Home” for lonely survivors, which is a shared living space for survivors to take music, arts, and horticultural classes.

Last night I had the priviledge to attend a special ceremony to honour one of the woman survivors, Kim Bok-dong who is 91 and who spent last 20 years fighting for justice for ‘comfort women’ (Picture below).Kim Bok-dongis well-known to South Koreans for her courage to speak up publically about her experience of sexual slavery. She received a special recognition by the Soul City Mayor for her commitment to justice and peace. The living witnesses of the history, victim-survivors of the sexual slavery, are advanced in age, ranging from 80s to 90s. Currently there are only 33 halmonies* still living out of 234 halmonis who are registered in the official record of the Korean government.

(*Halmoni : Refering elder woman in Korean, meaning ‘grandmother’. The Korean Council activists and citizens call the survivors ‘halmoni’ as a way of showing our respect and affection.)