"Halmoni" Yongsoo Lee speaks out.
Yearly, on International Women’s Day, the world celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, from around the globe and throughout history, that are bringing us closer to equal rights for all. However, it should also be a day of remembrance and reflection. Every March 8th let us honor all the women and girls who have suffered at the hands of gender-based violence and discrimination, and recognize what must still be done to achieve full equality.
For International Women’s Day 2016, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women joined members of the New York City Council and fellow advocates at a press conference on the steps of New York City’s City Hall. We were there to commemorate “comfort women” and renew our efforts to end impunity in the trafficking of women and girls around the world. We were also extremely honored by the attendance of Ms. Yongsoo Lee, a powerful advocate and “comfort woman” survivor.
Hundreds of thousands of women and girls throughout Asia suffered government-sanctioned trafficking and sexual slavery at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army prior to and during World War II. Survivors’ voices have been drowned time and again by Japan’s denial of this fact and its refusal to admit historical responsibility for these crimes. We must not only take this day to commemorate the victims and survivors of a horrific system of exploitation, but join them in their fight for justice, reparations and an unequivocal apology from Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
What happened to the “comfort women” does not remain in the past. Many governments have been and are guilty of horrific crimes against women and girls, including state-sanctioned sexual violence and trafficking. However, it is critical to engage in truth and reconciliation so that history doesn’t keep repeating itself. If Japan — or any government — is serious about combating human trafficking today, it must face its history with honor and apologize to the women it enslaved
On International Women’s Day, we remember both the tragedies and achievements that have affected women throughout the world, and we stand with survivors of gender-based violence. We renew our resolve to ensure that our future is one where equality for all is realized.