Sexual Slavery ~ connecting the past and the present

Women from Korea, China, and the Philippines who were taken by the Japanese military as sexual slaves during WWII are still seeking reparations – an apology from the Japanese government, an acknowledgement of the trauma they suffered, and compensation for their losses. There were an estimated 200,000 women victims of this form of gender violence. Most live in poverty without any psycho-social or other support. Most are grandmothers in their 80s and 90s. After years of silence some women are speaking out and demanding justice for “comfort women”. One such woman is Lola Fedencia David from the Philippines who was in Canada this week to speak in Winnipeg and Toronto.

When asked by an audience member today if she would prefer to use a term other than “comfort women” (since the term comes from the perpetrators’ perspective), Lola Fedencia David replied that it is more difficult to say “military sexual slave”. Much like the term “bush wife” used to describe women forced into conjugal unions during the wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Uganda, “comfort women” is a misnomer that does violence to the experiences of exploitation and violence. And like women who are abducted in contemporary conflicts, those violations are not just sexual and the trauma does not end when the fighting stops.

Reparations for crimes against humanity need to be responsive to the needs of the survivors and their communities. Activists have worked hard to pressure governments and the UN to recognize that women need to be at the table when truth, reconciliation and reparation programs are designed and implemented. Women were successful during the drafting process to establish the International Criminal Court (ICC) to lobby for the Trust Fund for Victims. But far more needs to be done! Public history education such as the panel organized today by ALPHA and the Museum for Human Rights, international campaigns, and local agitation for prevention and reparations in post conflict situations are good places to start.


Posted in From the Desk of the Director.