Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Comfort Women

I can hear it before I see it. Loudspeakers. A woman's voice. Greenery all around me, the indignation and anger of women breaking the serenity of the garden I am walking through. On the other side, main street, the whirr of bus wheels going by, an occasional car horn, and the discussions of passersby don't interrupt the protest outside the Japanese Embassy in the Insa-dong section of town. Every Wednesday, 12 noon, there is a protest for the comfort women.

It is not often you see a Korean woman taking charge. For sure they do behind closed doors, but not in public. Women here are an enigma. They appear soft and flowing, like the organza skirts and blouses they wear for their office jobs. They are quiet, they seem serene and move with elegance and grace.

Not so, here. Here, in front of the Japanese Embassy, about 150-200 people gather to hear a tiny woman. Young women begin. They are passionate, full of power; they rev the masses up, chants and shouts, banners and home made posters wave in the spring breeze. Haksang (students) and adjummas (middle aged women) are united to call out their rage of the atrocities poured onto this tiny woman, and others like her. She moves slowly, a pale pink blouse and straw cap protecting her from the sun. Her voice is strong. She is one of the few surviving comfort women, girls really, who were kidnapped and forced to serve Japanese soldiers in sexual slavery during World War II.

The woman next to me holds a sign urging the Japanese government to take responsibility for its role in the abuse of these stolen women. It is written in Korean. Around me though, I see similar signs in Japanese and English. A man sells a book - or is t a DVD? I can't get close enough to tell. The picture on the front looks quite a lot like the woman in the pale pink shirt and the straw hat. She takes the podium, her words full of fire. She is hearty and hale. While I can not understand the language, the message is clear. "Ilbon" (Japan) is a word often spoken during her diatribe. Each time it is spoken, it comes out with disgust.

There are so many things that separate us, this little woman and I. Age, race, culture. But there is one that brings us together. We are both women. We are both women who know the atrocities one person can throw upon another, disregarding humanity. How often do we have the opportunity to be in the presence of someone who has survived such horror? I owe it to her, to women everywhere, perhaps to history itself, to bear witness to the message.

*There are estimated to be between 100-200 comfort women still alive.*

Here is a short documentary regarding this:

A personal story about comfort women can be found here:

(photo from internet)

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