The brutality of military sexual slavery, known as comfort women, was first introduced to the public when professor Yoon Jung-ok of Ewha reported its wartime history in 1988 during a seminar. In 1990, The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan was established to conduct investigations into cases of systematic brutalities and seek reparations for the victims. Since then, the victims have asked Japan to acknowledge its role in the abuse of their human rights and offer official apologies. Nonetheless, the issue remains unsolved with their evasion of responsibility.
I was 16 when I first found out about the stories of comfort women. I joined a volunteer group called “Forthegrandmothers” to speak for the rights of the victims of comfort women. During a weekly Wednesday demonstration held in front of the Japanese embassy, I stood along with the grandmothers – at the time I called the victims grandmothers – and waited. The elderly knew that the embassy was not going to budge. Yet they protested patiently for the slight possibility for a gesture of repentance. It was a long day standing in front of the Japanese embassy with only facing unbreakable silence. I was disappointed, the feeling the grandmothers must have felt every Wednesday. During the entire years of my high school life, I wrote letters to the Japanese government, in Korean and English, but never got a reply.
After few years of never getting an answer back, I stopped writing letters and became indifferent about the issue. Four years have passed. Recently, there was a moment I felt ashamed of being so timid about the issue. This April, Joseph Choi, a Korean student majoring Economics at Harvard University questioned Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his lecture at Harvard Kennedy school. In the midst of the positive questions toward the Japanese government, Choi questioned its denial of military sexual slavery. Although he did not receive a clear answer, he showed courage and determination by asking that very question.
Moved by this story, I visited the Wednesday demonstration again. Although four years have passed since I stood among the demonstration, I saw the grandmothers, still firmly holding their spots, to be part of the never ending tug-of-war with the Japanese embassy. It must have been countless Wednesdays they have spent, probably lonely and restless, but they were still there. I heard a voice deep in my heart knocking on my conscience.
Even if minimal, I want to be part of the movement and wait until the grandmothers receive a sincere apology from the Japanese government. All they wish to hear is a recognition of their wrongdoings and a humble apology. They never asked for a huge compensation. 23 years have passed since the first Wednesday demonstration on Jan. 8 of 1992. Yet even this Wednesday, the gate of the Japanese embassy is firmly shut.