“Comfort women” were women and girls forced into sexual slavery by Japanese forces during the Second World War. According to testimonies, young women were abducted from their homes or persuaded with promises of better work or pay. It is estimated that up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea, were victims of this misconduct. Now, more than 70 years since the end of the Second World War, many victims are reaching old age, making this an increasingly time sensitive issue if they are to receive compensation or an apology.
Of the 42 women that survive, 29 filed a constitutional appeal in March 2015, stating that their basic rights were violated by the December 28th agreement between Seoul and Tokyo. Under this agreement, the Japanese Prime Minister offered an apology and pledged 1 billion yen ($9 million USD) to set up a new foundation with the aim of helping former victims of wartime slavery.
Though it has yet to be set up, the government-backed foundation has been countered by the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, who claim that the agreement does not reflect the victims’ true interests. The rival Foundation for Justice and Remembrance for the Issue of Military Sexual Slavery is headed by Chi Eun-hee, who served as Korean Minister of Gender Equality and Family in the early 2000s.
South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck declined to comment on the launch of the rival foundation, stating only, “It’s not appropriate to comment on a private group’s activities.” The head of the newly created government preparation committee, Kim Tae-hyun, stated, “The organizations should reconsider (their opposition), from the point that the average age of the survivors is 89.4, and we don’t know when they will pass away. Isn’t it the humane thing for them to let go of remorse, accept the apology, and take financial support?”
It is unclear as yet as to what the activities of each foundation will look like, and whether the rival foundation will continue to operate without the assistance of government support or grant funding.—Hannah Butler