In my piece, I stated that: On 2 March 2007, the issue of 'comfort women' was raised again by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who denied that the military had forced women into sexual slavery during World War II. He stated, 'the fact is, there is no evidence to prove there was coercion'. Before he spoke, a group of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers also sought to revise Yohei Kono's 1993 apology to former comfort women. 2007 marks the 30th anniversary of International Women's Day. The day has been observed since the early 1900s, a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialised world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies. In 1977 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution inviting member states to proclaim a UN Day for Women's Rights and International Peace - International Women's Day - observed on 8 March. This important day provides an opportunity to celebrate progress made to advance women's rights and to assess remaining challenges. International Women's Day should encourage us to bring about equality for women and girls in all their diversity, and to celebrate the collective power of women past, present and future. -----Women's suffering arises as a direct consequence of their gender----- We should all bear in mind that many problems faced by women arise as a direct consequence of their gender. Everyday, in countries around the world, women and girls, desperate for economic opportunity, and seeking to follow their dreams of a better life, are lured from home by promises of jobs and security. Sadly, they too often find themselves turned into prostitutes, imprisoned by employers, mistreated, sexually abused and often never seen nor heard from again. While entire communities suffer the consequences of armed conflict, women and girls are particularly affected because of their status in society. More than 1 billion people in the world today, the great majority of whom are women, live in unacceptable conditions of poverty, mostly in developing countries. Women's lives continue to be endangered by violence which is directed at them, because they are women. Violence against women knows no class, race, or age barriers. It exists across all socio-economic groups, It is a daily phenomenon in the lives of women throughout the world. ----'Comfort Women', at a glance in 2007----- The recent statement by Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, raising the issue of 'comfort women' strongly reinforces the suffering of women and girls today. He said that there was no evidence Japan coerced Asian women into working as sex slaves during World War II, backtracking from a landmark 1993 statement in which the government acknowledged that it set up and ran brothels for its troops. The 1993 apology was made by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, but was not approved by parliament. The recent Japanese Prime Minister’s denial came after several members of the US House of Representatives have drafted a non-binding resolution calling him to 'formally acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility' for using 'comfort women' during the war. Supporters want an apology similar to the one the US government gave to Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps during World War II. That apology was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. This development is regrettable and shows that the ghost of inequality and disrespect continues to haunt the women and women’s rights. In fact, 'comfort women' or 'military comfort women' is a euphemism for between 80,000 and 200,000 forced sex labourers, mostly from Korea and China, conscripted into military brothels in Japanese-occupied countries during World War II. Women were enslaved against their will and repeatedly raped, tortured and brutalised for months or years on end, exclusively for the benefit of Japanese military. Women were abducted or obtained by deception and in some cases, girls were purchased from destitute parents. The majority of victims were under the age of 20 and some girls were as young as 12. The Japanese Government has vigorously defended its legal position on this issue and has persistently maintained that all issues of compensation were settled by post-war peace treaties. Japan’s apologies to the former ‘comfort women’ have been half-hearted and the government has refused to accept any legal liability. Japan’s answer to compensation has failed to meet international guidelines on reparation and compensation. -----No more 'Comfort women'?----- Can we say that after the World War II, there are no more comfort women? The answer is no, if we consider the number and cases of sexual abuses committed by military and paramilitary forces around the world and especially in Africa. It is even worse when 'peacekeepers' are also involved in these practices. The experience of women during WWII is not unique. Women continue to suffer from systematic rape and assault in war and conflict. Women in Rwanda, Liberia, Somalia, Sierra-Leone, Burundi, DRC and Sudan have reported deliberate and systematic rape and abuse during conflict. These crimes are war crimes and human rights violations of grave magnitude. Japan, other states and individuals should be taught that this system of forced sexual slavery is a crime against humanity that does not lapse with the passing of time. The denial of a just remedy for surviving former 'comfort women' is a human rights violation. Victims’ needs have to be at the core of any attempt to address past violations. So far, Japan’s actions have ignored their victims’ needs and actually compounded the initial human rights violations committed against them. It is well established in international law that where a state has committed gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law, as Japan did in the case of the 'comfort women'," the government is obliged to investigate such abuses, prosecute those responsible, provide adequate remedies to the victims and prevent future abuses. ----Never again, the brutality of men at war!---- These women deserve justice. It is vital that the surviving 'comfort women' as we are celebrating the International Women’s Day, are given back their dignity. Just remedy for the survivors of the comfort system will give hope to survivors and victims, as well as set a precedent for other women suffering today.
Further to this, Susan Somach said…
Thank you for your thoughtful piece. I am constantly amazed by the blatant sexism in the human rights community that continues to belittle the suffering of women and girls as somehow less of a violation than that which happens to men and boys in oppressive and wartime conditions. Assuming that women willingly give their bodies "to the war cause" is insulting and degrading to those who suffered. We need to stop calling them 'comfort women' and use the more accurate term 'sex slaves' or 'survivors.' As these men try to justify the concept of 'conscripting' women for this purpose, I would ask whether they would have approved this type of 'work' for their wives, daughters, or mothers. Then, perhaps, we can begin to have an honest discussion about what they really think of the issue.
Furthermore, the double standard continues as human rights activist who decry abuse and torture in the streets - at the hands of government officials or with their tacit approval - ignore the abuses that take place in the home (i.e., domestic violence) that affects the whole family. From a psycho-social perspective, we know that those who perpetrate violence are more likely to have experienced abuse in their homes. If we are truly dedicated to a more peaceful world, we need to start at home where these attitudes and experiences start.
Question: What is your opinion?