Pressure mounts as time is running out for justice for ‘Comfort Women’

On the anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Asia, women who faced abuse and sexual slavery at the hand of the Japanese Imperial army have now been waiting 64 years for an official apology and adequate reparations.

It is thought that as many as 200,000 women were taken from their communities and beaten, raped and coerced into providing sexual services for the Japanese military in what became known as a system of “sexual slavery”. For decades after the war, women remained silent about the abuses they faced, often fearing rejection from their families and communities.

Menen Medina Castillo is now 80 years old. She was born in the Philippines but taken from her family when she was 13 by Japanese Soldiers to a “Comfort Station” where she endured successive rapes. Menen kept her experience a secret from her family. “I never thought I could demand justice for the wrongs that were done to me during the war. I kept my silence because I thought I can not do anything about it,” she said.

When a few women began to speak out against the abuses they’d faced, others joined them, forming groups campaigning for justice, engaging in activities from demonstrations, to global speaking tours and parliamentary lobbying. Menen is now a national representative for the campaign in the Philippines.

Consistent pressure by the former “Comfort Women” and campaigning partners has paid off. Over the past three years, the USA, Canada, South Korea, Taiwan, and the European Parliament have all shown their support for the “Comfort Women” by passing resolutions urging the Government of Japan to provide justice for them.  Experts from the United Nations Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women echoed these calls at the Committee’s meeting in July 2009.

Until recently there have been few signs of support for the campaign within Japan, though in a significant shift, since March 2008, 8 city councils in Japan have also passed resolutions supporting the call for justice and reparations for the former “Comfort Women”.

Although pressure is mounting on the Government of Japan to apologize for its part in the system of “sexual slavery” and provide adequate reparations, many of the former “Comfort Women” are now in their 80s and fear that justice will not come during their lifetimes.