What it's like to be a 'comfort woman'
A young Kim Bok-dong.
During WWII, up to 200,000 women and girls were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military. These women and girls were kept in 'comfort stations' in China, Taiwan, Borneo, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), Indonesia and many of the Pacific Islands.
Women were abducted, deceived or sold by extremely poor parents. The majority of women were under the age of 20 and some were girls as young as 12. These women and girls were kept for months or years on end.
South Korean Kim Bok-dong, was one of those women. Now 90 years old, she was taken from her home village and abused as a ‘comfort woman’. Here she gives a rare insight into her horrific experience and her continued fight for justice.
Kim Bok-Dong, 90, raises awareness on gender violence.
I was 14 years old when I was forcefully drafted into sexual slavery by the Japanese government. They said they would hire me as a factory worker, but instead they dragged many of us to Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Malaysia and Indonesia. I was with the army headquarters so I went almost everywhere with them.
There are no words to describe what the soldiers did to me, from noon to 5pm on Saturdays and 8am to 8pm on Sundays. By the end of the day, I could not even sit up. After eight years of suffering, they placed me as a worker in an army hospital. Their intention was to hide any evidence of ‘comfort women’.
I did not even know when the war ended. When I came back home, I was 22. How could I tell anyone what happened to me? My parents kept telling me to get married, but I could not. So I had to tell them in the end. They did not believe it at first and then said at least it was very fortunate for me to survive all of that. It has been several decades since the end of the war but there has been no proper response from Japan. If our own government is not working on this issue, who should we talk to? This is why we are still fighting.
I got involved in the movement for ‘comfort women’ as soon as it started, so 20 years ago. One day, they were calling for reports from ‘comfort women’ survivors. So I called them. People came to find me and even a broadcasting company came to me as well. I don’t remember the exact date, but the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery came to me and I have been with them ever since. It was really difficult at first, but I could not sit back when all these people would come forward at the Wednesday Protests for us. Now, I also protest outside the embassy every Wednesday. We shout to call on the Japanese government to apologize. We have bonded over this period of time.
When I went to Vienna for the UN World Conference on Human Rights in 1993, many women around the world cried with us, for us. I really appreciate the support from other states. They speak as if they are ready to work with us right away. However, I believe they need to push Japan further if they really want to help us. And they do not seem to know that this didn’t just happen to Korean women. All those countries whose women suffered should co-operate more actively to protest against the Japanese government’s denial. All those countries probably know about the crimes and that it was wrong. They should cooperate [with each other] and urge Japan to accept recommendations and make this recent UN Universal Periodic Review Process important. I look forward to more actions than words that will help keep Japan under pressure.
Although several decades have passed, nothing has been resolved. When I hear about supporters from all around the world, I am just thankful and it gives me a hope that this fight may end really soon. I hope more and more people raise their voices for a resolution of this issue. Let’s stand strong and not give up. I also urge young women and students to join our fight for justice − your voices and your actions will be greatly appreciated.
I am now 90 and this is indeed tiring for me. But I want to receive an apology from the Japanese government myself. I am not doing this for money. I just want the Japanese government to regret their actions, take responsibility for what they did, apologise to all of us, and respect our human rights.
To all the women around the world, be strong. No war! No violence against women!
The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign that started on 25 November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and ends on 10 December, Human Rights Day.
The campaign hopes to raise awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue at the local, national, regional and international level. This year's theme is "Let's challenge militarism and end violence against women".