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21. August 2020

Second World War Commemorations: Remembering the suffering of the "comfort women"

Kim Hak-Soon was still a young girl in Korea when she was sexually enslaved by the Japanese military during the Second World War. On August 14, 1991, she went in front of the TV cameras to tell her story, becoming the first survivor among the so-called "comfort women" to issue such a public testimony of the severe violations of human rights they suffered. Her courage has been remembered on August 14 every year for the last eight years as the International Day of "Comfort Women". Sara Fremberg, Head of the Communication and Policy Department at medica mondiale, spoke at a memorial action in Berlin.

The widely used term "comfort women" plays down the suffering of the women and girls kidnapped and forced into prostitution by the Japanese military. Estimates indicate that up to 200,000 women and girls had to endure sexualised wartime violence during the Second World War in Korea, a former Japanese colony, and other regions occupied by the Japanese such as China, Thailand or the Philippines. A similar fate also befell millions of women in Russia, Poland, France and Germany. Among them were many Jewish and Romani women. All of the armies in the Second World War were at fault.

Korea Association demands acknowledgement of crimes and compensation for the "comfort women"

Only a few of the "comfort women" are still alive. They and the relatives of the others are today still waiting for official acknowledgement of these crimes and an apology from the Japanese government. The Korea Association in Berlin and its working group "Comfort Women" has been working since 2009 to raise awareness of this issue, with education and political work.

On the occasion of this year’s International Day of "Comfort Women", medica mondiale joined many other women's rights organisations and activists taking part in a vigil held at the Brandenburg Gate that was organised by the Korea Association. The action aimed to remind people of the suffering of those affected by the system of "comfort women" and to remember the courage of Kim Hak-Soon.

The suffering of the "comfort women" and other survivors: Never merely history

medica mondiale is calling upon the German government and international community to take action in order to bring an end to sexualised wartime violence in current conflicts and to support the women affected. Today it is still the case that in every war, women and girls are raped, kidnapped, sexually enslaved and exploited. This includes the conflicts in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Iraq and Syria.

In Germany, in Japan and in most other post-war societies, the stories of these women and girls are still generally ignored and suppressed. They receive no satisfactory support. Together we are working to ensure that their stories are never forgotten. Because their story is never merely history. Their stories are part of us.


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World War II: Millions of rapes on women and girls