[Newsmaker] Former ‘comfort woman,’ women’s activist Kim Bok-dong dies


Kim Bok-dong, a South Korean victim of Japanese military sexual slavery during World War II and a symbol of the country’s women’s rights movement, died late Monday, bringing down the number of survivors to 23. She was 93.

Kim, who was at the forefront of struggles to raise awareness about Japanese military sexual slavery and end violence around the world, died at 10:41 p.m. on Monday at Yonsei Severance Hospital in Seoul, according to the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance. She had battled colorectal cancer for about a year.

Her last words included “rage toward Japan,” according to Yoon Mi-hyang, president of the Korean Council, who was by her side when she passed away. 

Kim Bok-dong`s funeral altar. Yonhap

President Moon Jae-in sent a condolence message, praising Kim for dedicating her life to revealing hidden aspects of history and restoring the dignity of human beings.

“Grandmother (Kim Bok-dong) did not remain a victim, but was at the forefront of setting history straight by demanding an apology and legal compensation for Japan’s aggression,” Moon said on his Facebook page.

“I will not forget to set history right,” he said, vowing to fulfill his duty to the 23 survivors who still remain alive.

Moon visited Kim at the hospital earlier this month when she was struggling against cancer.

A memorial altar for Kim was established Tuesday at Yonsei Severance Hospital’s funeral home and is open to the public. Her funeral is scheduled for Friday.

Born in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang Province, in March 1926, Kim was taken to Japan in 1940 when she was only 14 years old. She was told that she would work in a sewing factory to support Japan’s war effort, but instead she ended up in Japanese military brothels.

Kim was forced to work in front-line brothels for Japanese troops for eight years during World War II. The brothels were in different countries including China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

It was in 1992 that Kim came forward as a former “comfort woman” — a euphemism for the women and girls forced to work in Japan’s front-line brothels — and publicly testified about her experience as a wartime sex slave.

This was soon after another victim, Kim Hak-sun, first broke the silence on the issue in 1991.

Since the early 1990s, Kim Bok-dong had traveled to the US, Japan and other countries to speak out about her plight.

She was also a regular participant in the Wednesday rallies, which began in 1993 in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, where she and other survivors demanded a clear apology from Japan and formal reparations for the women it had forced into wartime sexual servitude.

Kim was also at the center of peace activism and efforts to raise awareness about sexual assault during wartime. To help victims of sexual violence in armed conflicts around the world, Kim, together with another former comfort woman named Gil Won-ok, established the Butterfly Fund in 2012.

In 2014, she apologized on behalf of Korea to Vietnamese women who had been sexually assaulted by Korean soldiers.

She also donated funds to help people affected by the March 11, 2011, earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devastated Japan‘s northeastern coast, establishing scholarships worth 50 million won ($44,800) for two ethnic Korean students in Japan.

Kim was only one of many young Asian women systematically recruited and forced to work in Japan’s military brothels. Historians estimate that up to 200,000 women were forced into sexual slavery for Japan before and during World War II. The majority came from the Korean Peninsula, which Japan colonized from 1910-1945.

Kim’s death leaves only 23 survivors. The highest number of registered survivors in South Korea was 247, according to government data.

To settle the issue, South Korea and Japan signed a deal in 2015 in which Japan apologized to the victims and provided 1 billion yen ($9.15 million) for a “Reconciliation and Healing Foundation” set up under South Korea’s Gender Ministry to support the victims.

Some of the victims and members of the public, however, protested the deal struck under the Park Geun-hye administration, saying it failed to address the victims’ concerns or reflect their wishes. They called for the nullification of the deal and the dissolution of the foundation.

Kim was one of many survivors who opposed the deal, demanding a sincere apology from Japan and formal recognition of Japan’s legal responsibility for its war crimes.

The Moon Jae-in administration has concluded that the 2015 deal was seriously flawed and has said it would disband the foundation.

By Ock Hyun-ju ([email protected])

Source : koreaherald

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