By Azmina Dhrodia, Programme Assistant – Gender, Sexuality and Identity Programme
I received my first ‘A’ grade for an essay during my second-year university Global Politics class. I think the outrage my essay topic provoked in me might have something to do with the high grade. I had written about the continuing injustice faced by women subjected to sexual slavery and enforced prostitution by the Japanese Imperial Army before and during World War II who are euphemistically known as ‘comfort women’. What most upset me was that 73 years after the events, the survivors were still waiting for an official apology, adequate compensation and reparations. I wrote that essay seven years ago – and have even more of a reason to be upset today. Still not much (and by far not enough) has changed for those women and the many others around the world who have experienced and continue to experience similar human rights violations.
Today I am working on women’s rights at Amnesty International and campaigning for the same rights so vehemently demanded by the survivors of crimes which were perpetrated generations before my time. It is depressing to see that today the survivors and their supporters are still challenging the Japanese government, that they have still not received the apology and reparations they deserve.
Sexual violence against women and girls during periods of armed conflict and militarism is no new phenomenon. Sexual violence against men and boys within this context is also becoming increasingly acknowledged. The 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence – which starts today, 25 November, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends on 10 December, International Human Rights Day – seeks to motivate us all to take action on an issue that resonates in every region across the world.It has been eighty years since the Japanese army enslaved women and girls across Asia during World War II, twenty years since thousands of women were raped, and many murdered, during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, six months since the armed conflict in Cote d’Ivoire saw hundreds, if not thousands of women, systematically raped by armed forces. And today in Colombia women and girls still face a high risk of sexual violence by all warring parties in the long-running armed conflict. This year’s 16 Days theme – ‘Let’s Challenge Militarism and end Violence against Women’ – challenges us to take a stand against the many forms of violence to which women and girls have been subjected during periods of militarism throughout history. Survivors’ stories bear striking similarities – across countries and over time. Because of their experience of violence, they are stigmatized by family and community members, the perpetrators are hardly ever brought to justice, and the women and girls often receive no rehabilitation for the physical and psychological harm they experience. They receive no apology, and many live in fear of further violence.
What can we do, concretely? This year, we at Amnesty International are petitioning the Ivorian authorities to include an adequate definition of rape in the penal code so that survivors can access justice. We are putting pressure on political parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina to ensure the rights of war-time rape survivors are not forgotten amidst the political deadlock. We are calling on the Japanese government to unequivocally apologize and provide reparations for the survivors of Japan’s military sexual slavery system. And we are supporting and showing solidarity to women’s groups in Colombia fighting for survivors’ rights.
As the years pass, the generation of brave women who first challenged the Japanese army for its crimes are reaching old age; many have already died. We owe it to their legacy and the scores of remaining war-time sexual violence survivors to force those responsible to take action so that one day such atrocities will no longer happen– and even before that day all survivors can access justice for the crimes committed against them.
Violence against women knows no boundaries. Challenging the appalling impact that militarism and armed conflict can have on women and girls is not easy. But we are determined, – and we will do what we can to end gender violence for at least the next generation of women and girls.
Do what you can – http://www.amnesty.org/en/womens-rights