Activist From Canada Attends Comfort Womens 900th Protest
A former “comfort woman” covers her ears with mittens during the 900th weekly protest at the Japanese Embassy in downtown Seoul, Wednesday, calling on Tokyo to apologize for forcing them to serve in brothels during the Second World War.
/ Korea Times Photo
by Ryu Hyo-jin
By Kwon Mee-yoo
A university student offered her mittens to a nun who was rubbing her hands in the freezing cold during the 900th protest held by former "comfort women" in Seoul, Wednesday.
The nun declined the offer and showed her gloves in her pocket. When asked why she was not wearing gloves, she said "I want to share in the agony of the elderly women here," she said.
Despite the extreme cold, several elderly women participated in the protest, which has been held weekly for 18 years, in front of the Japanese Embassy in Korea, downtown Seoul.
Gil Won-ok, a former comfort woman, said that she was grateful to all the people that came to the protest, as they were informing the world of this "terrible" issue. "I want everybody, from children to seniors, to recognize what happened," she said.
The Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan started the "Wednesday Protest" in 1992 with 234 former comfort women, but only 87 remain, with most of them quite old. It is the world's longest-running demonstration.
The 900th protest drew a large crowd that including volunteers and reporters. Simultaneous demonstrations to support the comfort women were also held in Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, Kyoto and Nagoya in Japan and Berlin, Germany.
Angela Lytle is a research associate at the Center for Women's Studies in Education and program director of Women's Human Rights Education Institute at the University of Toronto and first came to know about the former comfort women through a lecture by a Philippine rights activist she attended when she was a graduate student.
"I wish to thank these women, as a woman, for their tireless activism that has made the world better and safer for all women," Lytle said. "Sometimes, people in Korea ask me why I am interested in this issue as a foreign woman. I would like to say that this is not an isolated issue, nor just a historical issue, nor a nationalistic issue between two countries."
During her three-and-a-half year stay in Korea, Lytle volunteered at the organization House of Sharing and taught English at Seoul National University.
She went back home earlier this year. But she came back to gather information for an English-language educational packet on comfort women.
The Canadian urged Tokyo to act on the issue as soon as possible. "I would like the Japanese government to answer the demands of these victims, such as investigating the crime and memorializing the victims. They have to reveal the truth and tell the truth in their textbooks," she said. "The Lee Myung-bak government also has a responsibility to pressure the Japanese government.
"This is going to help teachers in the West understand the comfort women's plight and teach their students about the issue in history, women's studies and other classes," she said.