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TAKING A STAND FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS

October 25, 2012 ·  By Fr. Shay Cullen

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TAKING A STAND FOR WOMEN’S RIGHT
by Fr. Shay Cullen 
Email: shaycullen@preda.org
(Fr. Shay’s columns are published in The Manila Times,in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)
 
Seoul, Korea
24 October 2012
As I stood across the road from the Japanese embassy in Seoul earlier
this week a group of Korean catholic nuns and a fellow Irish Columban
Missionary ,Pat Cunningham, were among the first to arrive to join
the peaceful demonstration for women's rights. We were there to give
support to the cause of three of the surviving 60 or so former Korean
women forced to be sex slaves of the Japanese imperial army in WW11.
The three aging women, now international celebrities,some late
eighty or ninety years old sat with pride and dignity beside a
life-size statue of a seated woman.

This statue is the permanent monument representing as many as the
estimated 200,000 victims that were abducted for Japanese military
sex slavery between 1932 and 1945. They were forced into
prostitution and called "Comfort Women" however many were as young as
13 when first raped and abused. The three women proudly wore the
yellow apron, the signature colour of the protest movement as did
the statue of the seated lady, looking steadily and unwavering at the
reddish stone building across the road silently demanding justice
and waiting sixty years for an answer.

The weekly demonstration has being going on for 20 years, over a
thousand and forty six demonstrations to date ,each well attended by
about 200 people. Its one of the longest sustained protest actions in
the world. They are demanding that the Japanese government accept
direct responsibility,apologize and pay compensation to the remaining
survivors.

The Japanese government in 1993 issued an apology statement from the
cabinet secretary for the sexual abuse of women during the war. Other
more general apologies have been made but are insufficient the
critics say.

No direct compensation has been paid as all claims were settled by
agreements after the war according to the Japanese government. A
Charitable fund,named the Asian Women's Fund was established to help
the survivors in 1995 but the victims refused to accept the payments
and demanded that the compensation be paid directly by the Japanese
government and was not accepted.

Wednesday's demonstration drew additional public and media attention
following the flair up in the tense relations between Japan and
Korea over some islands and the rich fishing grounds claimed by both
sides.With elections coming in December the Korean president Lee
Myung-bak visited the islands recently to reenforce the Korean claim
and demanded an apology for the sex slavery imposed on Koreans from
the Japanese government and Emperor.

The campaign protesting military sex slavery has expanded over the
years into a campaign protesting violence and trafficking of women
and children into the commercial sex industry in South East Asia and
the Filipina women trafficked for prostitution to US military in
Korea. Hundreds of thousands of young girls are enslaved in the
commercial sex establishments and abused by sex tourists from many
nations. The farmers and members of civil society in Korea are
protesting the construction of a Korean naval base on Jeju island on
the extreme southern end of Korea.They are fearful that the proposed
military naval base would bring US ships and sailors and sex tourism
to their resort Island.

At 12.30 PM the organizers in front of the embassy welcomed a group
of Japanese women who had come to express apologies for their country
and give support.They made a moving statement. Then it was my turn
to give a message of solidarity from all those fighting for justice
and for the rights of sexually exploited women and children in the
Philippines trapped in the commercial sex industry. This is a
shameful business with social injustice and continuous human rights
violations that the local governments in the Philippines have not the
courage or political will to close down.

Then one of the three women,Soon-Ok,Kim stood and gave an emotional
speech denouncing the abuse and injustice and calling for an apology.
Many present were teary eyed at her passionate speech describing her
feelings and the sufferings of the abused women many of whom were
children at the time they were enslaved and prostituted. Then as the
TV cameras and media captured the moment Soon-Ok, Kim came over and
embraced me and likewise father Pat Cunningham. It was a missionary
experience of solidarity and witness and a moment when people of
different faiths and cultures stood together to uphold the greatest
values of all -human rights and dignity, peace and life itself.

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