[Letter to the editor]Recalling the violence done to women
November 25 has been declared by the United Nations as International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
While this day serves as a reminder of the ongoing subordination and brutalization of women around the world, it should also be a time to remember those women who have survived abhorrent abuse by armies in wartime.
Moon Pil-gi was just a girl when she was tricked into leaving her village and going to Busan with a local man.
She expected to be able to attend school there and get the education she so desperately desired. Little did she know she would soon find herself in Manchuria, China, being used as a “comfort woman” for the Japanese military.
For several years she endured state-sanctioned rape (by up to 30 men a day), and when the war was over, she had to find her way home and explain to her family what had happened to her.
This is how it was for the hundreds of Korean women who were taken by the Japanese during its colonial period and used as sex slaves.
Eleven of these women, including Moon Pil-gi, live at the House of Sharing in Gyeonggi province, a refuge for women who were subjected to this brutal, organized practice.
As I listened to her testimony on a recent visit there, the horror she had endured wasn’t visible from the outside.
She curled into the worn sofa like any little old lady in her late 70s would, her gray hair neatly in place. She first alludes to her ordeal when she squirms uncomfortably, her hands gingerly touching her back. “My back still hurts - it never fully recovered after I was kicked by a soldier,” we hear through one of the Korean interpreters. The emotional pain she suffered is conveyed in her sorrowful comment, “I have bruises on my heart.”
After she quietly relays the details of her harrowing ordeal, she gets fired up and speaks fiercely of the women’s frustration at the ways in which their tragic plight has been ignored by the Japanese government.
Despite all evidence to the contrary (including official documents, written and oral testimonies) the Japanese government has flat-out denied its role in the institutionalization and sanction of this abhorrent practice.
“It is indisputable that these women were forced, deceived, coerced and abducted to provide sexual services to the Japanese military ... [Japan] violated customary norms of international law concerning war crimes, crimes against humanity, slavery and the trafficking in women and children ... Japan should take full responsibility now, and make suitable restitution to the victims and their families,” the International Commission of Jurists reported in 1994.
Although hundreds of Korean women were abducted and used as sex slaves, only 50 have actually gone public about their ordeal.
The women, who have found strength in their struggle for recognition, have a very simple mission before they die and history forgets them: they want an official acknowledgement and apology from the Japanese government.
However, time is not on their side. Most of the former “comfort women” are in the winter of life, and as they pass away, their stories go with them.
There is a sense that seeing some sort of resolution to this grave injustice ― having it officially documented in text books and accurately inscribed into history ― is the only thing that keeps these women going.
“They put a nail in my heart that still hasn’t been removed,” Moon Pil-gi whispers.
If nothing else, mark November 25 on your calendar as a day to remember the suffering of those women who were, and continue to be, victims of war.
Tania Campbell, Bongcheon-dong, Seoul