Halmoni – comfort women

We knew that the Korean don’t like the Japanese an the other way round, these are negative emotions passed from one generation to another, but…we, the Polish know that from our lives! We have heard about sexual abuse of women by the Japanese during the war, and our visit in War & Women’s Human Rights Museum in Seoul taught us more about it, as a widely organised operation that Japan doesn’t want to take responsibility for. Emperor Hirohito was found guilty by Tribunal in Hague for organising military sexual slavery system.

War & Women’s Human Rights Museum in Seoul is a place to educate and commemorate the tragedy of young Asian women, who became victims of military sexual slavery system organised by the Japanese army. During the II World War, women from Korea, China, Taiwan and Indonesia were forced to provide sexual services and were placed in so called ‘comfort stations’. For months they were raped and beaten by the Japanese soliders. After the II World War, many of them were murdered or left behind in places where the Japanese troops were based. For years, those who survived, didn’t reveal their tragic memories. Until 1991, when Hak-Soon Kim as the first one of the victims, stated in public her experience of being ‘halmoni’ (affectionate way of calling grandmother in Korean, used as term for comfort women). It has inspired the other women to reveal their traumatic memories. Today, they all fight for peace and respect, they take part in ongoing protests (since 1992!) held every Wednesday in front of the Japanese embassy. Their demands are among others: recognising Japanese military sexual slavery system as a war crime; disclosing official documents; official apology; or punishing the responsible ones.
We should keep in mind that those ‘comfort women’ are now elderly women and their voice will be heard less and less. However, the places like the Museum mobilise and remind the young generation to fight for the truth and reparations. Solidarity is our weapon!

The Museum is a perfectly prepared, touching exposition, tackling not only the issue of Japanese military system, but also it indicates the problem of violence against women during every military conflict in the world. Following the rooms inside the Museum, we saw photos, films, drawings, documents, and sculpture of a young girl in traditional Korean outfit that has become a symbol of Wednesday protests. Memorial wall is on the second floor, made of bricks with the victim names, those who passed away. In front of the Museum, everyone can leave his or her own message, written on the board of butterfly shape. Many people do that, as they are touched by the stories of thousands of women and the cruelty that people can do to each other.

 

Worth reading is the book written by Jan Ruff-O’Herne, titled Fifty Years of Silence, it is autobiographical story of one of the women, who was placed in one of the comfort stations in China. She lives in Australia now but her childhood she spent in Indonesia, Dutch East Indies at that time, from where she was dragged away from her family and forced into prostitution. Hearing the story of Hak-Soon Kim, she has also decided to reveal her experience as ‘halmoni’.

 

The Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan supports and consults the women, runs the Museum, provides welfare services for them and shelter for lonely survivors. It also informs and educates about these tragic stories and fights together with women for justice. You can check the website of the Council and also support it financially:

www.womenandwar.net

#metoo movement brought out many women to reveal some ‘uncomfortable stories’, we heard that in the politics in South Korea many cases were found. Also Korean director Kim Ki-duk was accused of sexual abuse, what we learnt here, in Korea, when we said that we like his films.

Personally, I think that South Korea cares about women safety; what is visible and accessible for me, is easy way of calling for help in dangerous situation. Almost every public toilet is equipped with SOS button, that calls the police immediately. Small thing but may help a lot. Although, as a woman travelling in South Korea I feel safer than in any European country, but as the history shows it couldn’t always be like that.

Gandzia

 

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