August the 14th 2022 marks the tenth International Memorial Day for the World War Two “comfort women”.
The Friends for “Comfort Women” in Sydney (FCWS) with the help of Bill Crews Foundation and Uniting Church Ashfield, successfully hosted a commemoration event on the 7th of August 2022.
It was 1991 August 14th when late Hak-Sun Kim first broke the half-century-old silence by testifying on the sexual slavery enforced by the Japanese Military before and during the Pacific War. This was the first ever public testimony in the world regarding the Japanese Military “comfort women”. The “comfort women” are women and girls who were taken forcibly or completely defrauded into joining military brothels to be “used for the comfort of the soldiers”. The number of these women is estimated at around 200,000 people with the majority of the women coming from Japanese-occupied territories: Korea, China, Philippines, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaya, Manchukuo, Taiwan, the Dutch East Indies, Portuguese Timor, New Guinea alongside a smaller number of European women from the Netherlands and Australia. Thus, the International Day for “comfort women” is a day of remembrance, honouring all women and children who were sacrificed for the evil of men, before and during the Pacific War. It is also a day of fighting and advocating for justice for the victims who still to this day demand a formal, sincere, and legitimate apology from the Japanese government.
“There cannot ever be such atrocity happening in this land again” emphasised Hak-Sun Kim. To remember her words and continue her activism, various organisations, and individuals all around the world have been carrying on diverse cultural, educational and solidarity events since 2013.
The Sydney commemoration event was split into two parts, 1st a Special Memorial Day service and 2nd a feast with more than 250 attendees. The host of the event Rev. Bill Crews shared his experience meeting and communicating with the Chinese and Indonesian survivors of the Pacific War sexual slavery violence whilst his attendance as a special guest speaker at the Asian Solidarity conference in 2018. Rev. Crews further commented that “comfort women” is not an issue of the past as there is an ongoing problem of continuous wartime rape against women and children all around the world, especially in regions of conflict such as Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan.
Part 2 of the event started with the Aboriginal smoking ceremony by Uncle Terry and Aunty Shirley, followed by a performance by Sydney Pungmullori (Traditional Korean farmers music) Team ‘Feel Good’, harmonica recital by ‘Hasamo’ and a concert by Protest Choir ‘Hanalsorae’.
On this day an honourable guest Cr. Benjamin Cai made a moving speech on the importance of remembering the victims of the Pacific war as a community member of a culturally diverse Strathfield Council. RT Hon Cr. Cai said “This statue brings attention to us the pride of “comfort women” during the war and the unfair suffering of so many… the statue is more than just a monument it’s a history lesson and its establishment is very important. My heart goes out to those who have suffered as “comfort women” during World War Two, many of those who have now passed away. I can see from the faces and emotions how much this means to all of you and our community”.
Another special guest of this event was Eric Yun, a student from the University of Queensland who attended the guest from Brisbane and shared a brief yet strong statement on his impressions of the event. “It is the women and children who always suffer the most during wartimes and times of conflict. With sexual violence against women and children occurring in all parts of the world as we speak today, it is even more important to remember the past victims of wartime sexual violence,” said Eric Yun. He further added on his aspirations to erect another peace statue in Brisbane to further expand women’s rights activism into other parts of Australia.
On this day The Bill Crews Foundation generously provided a free feast to over 250 attendees and the Friends for “Comfort Women” in Sydney (FCWS) also donated snacks, fruits, and bread for the attendees.
Most importantly, on this day a commemoration speech was shared to honour the only known Australian “comfort women” victim, Jan Ruffe O’herne AO a former victim of sexual violence and an influential women’s rights activist. Jan was the activist who helped to share the history of “comfort women” in Western countries and also as the first Western woman to testify as a victim of “comfort women” she helped to remove the racial stigma the “comfort women” once had. The next 19th of August will mark 3 years since O’herne AO’s passing (1923-2019), she was a well-spoken and moving activist who dedicated her later years to advocating for justice for all female sexual slavery victims of the Pacific War. She has written an incredible autobiography regarding her experiences in the Slave Camps (so-called ‘comfort stations), called “50 years of silence”. Her granddaughter Ruby Challenger has also directed and created an award-winning short film based on O’herne’s book called “Daily bread”.
To honour O’herne a song she wrote to her daughters was sung, “Remember Me”. Friends of “Comfort Women” in Sydney (FCWS) 2016 august 6th erected the 4th Girl Statue of Peace in the Western world and the first ever statue in Australia in Ashfield Uniting Church, Sydney. The FCWS continues to fight for and advocate all around Oceania to educate, publicise, and raise awareness on the unresolved Pacific War Japanese military sexual slavery crimes and to protect human rights, human dignity and world peace even as you read this article today.