PODCAST: Angela Lytle on the ‘comfort women’ of Japan

Four Korean “comfort women” pose with a Chinese soldier in 1944. (Image: Pvt. Hatfield/U.S. Army/National Archives)

“I find that the best way to learn and really understand how complex the issue is is to look at the intersectional discrimination — that they were women, they were women in a patriarchal society, they were colonized women, they were poor women — and it put them in a particular situation that made it possible not only for a system of sexual slavery to be envisioned but also to have the utter impunity around the crimes that had been committed against these women. And to this day people look askance at them, even in Korea. It’s not a straightforward issue, even though it’s often represented as an “ethnic issue” between two countries… you can see how systemic oppression shaped these women’s lives from beginning to finish and the way that they continue to be retraumatized by the fact that they are not recognized by the Japanese government [and] that they are not recognized by people in their own society.”

– Angela Lytle

In this episode, I speak with Angela Lytle about the history and ongoing struggle of the so-called “comfort women.” During and in the years leading up to World War II, the Japanese Army mobilized more than 200,000 women from across Asia into sexual slavery. Survivors continue to struggle today with the trauma they endured during that time and are still demanding justice and recognition from the Japanese government.

Angela is a feminist activist and human rights educator who works internationally with the “comfort women” support movement. She is also the Executive Director of the Women’s Human Rights Education Institute.

On Tuesday, March 25th at the Univesity of British Columbia she will join other scholars and practitioners from Vancouver, Seoul, and Toronto to unpack the links between the “comfort women” and the various forms of sexual violence experienced by women across the world today. The workshop is free and open to the public but you have to register online at: https://comfortwomen.eventbrite.ca/

For more on Angela’s work on this issue, visit: www.politicsoftrauma.com

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Michael Gorman

    We should not forget the plight of modern ‘Comfort Women’.in Japan where the ‘firm young flesh’ of thousands of Chinese and other Asian nationals is trafficked to Japan each year by ruthless Yakuza gangs who hire the girls out to nightclubs throughout the country. For details read ‘The Other Side of the Coin’ an expose (Roman a clef) on this pitiful trade.
    Available on Kindle http://www.amazon.com/Other-Side-Coin-Michael-Gorman-ebook/dp/B00B3ON2G6/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395630843&sr=1-1&keywords=the+other+side+of+the+coin+gorman

  • caroline norma

    Thank you so much, Angela, for this extremely expert and clear analysis of the issue. Just to contribute to your thinking: Japanese men were rampant prostitution buyers before 1937 (statistics are available), both on Japanese soil and in colonial Korea and Taiwan. As you know, they set up a legalised prostitution industry in Korea in 1910. The West was aware of this, the League of Nations sent a delegation to tackle them about it in 1933. The first comfort women were trafficked out of Japan’s sex industry into mainland stations, and many stations were run by Japanese pimps. Given this history, I wonder whether your analysis might focus less on ‘sexual violence as a product of war’, and perhaps consider military prostitution as an outgrowth of civilian prostitution? I’m not sure if it’s prudent to see sexual violence as emerging inevitably out of war, because right wing defenders of the Japanese military today tend to use this suggestion to mount ‘boys will be boys’ arguments. Unfortunately, the ‘comfort women’ system was not historically unexpected, given the rampancy of the prostitution activity of Japanese men in the 1920s and 1930s. And neither was the targeting of Korean women–they had already been organised into systems of prostitution by 1937. Japanese pimps and traffickers were already set up on the peninsula. Just my thoughts, thank you for everything you are doing on the issue.