Taiwan's last known 'comfort woman' dies at 92

Over 200,000 were sexually enslaved in Japanese brothels between 1932 and 1945

comforwomen_japan 'Comfort women' museum in Taiwan | Reuters

Taiwan's last known comfort woman has died at the age of 92. Known as 'grandma', she was one of the last known survivors of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery. 'Comfort women' refers to women who were forced into sex work in the Japanese army's wartime brothels between 1932 and 1945. 

The woman had died on May 10 said activists. The Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation said her family had permitted the news of her death to be known after a private funeral, BBC reported. 

Over 200,000 were sexually enslaved in Japanese brothels between 1932 and 1945. While most of them were from South Korea, a lot of them were from Taiwan, China, and Indonesia. Japan ruled Taiwan from 1895 to 1945-- over the years about 60 women came forward as survivors. According to Taipei’s Women’s Rescue Foundation, which estimates there were at least 2,000. 

Who were the comfort women

The term 'comfort women' comes from the Japanese word ianfu, a combination of the Chinese characters “comfort or solace” (i-an) and woman (fu). Brothels with 'comfort women' were found wherever the Japanese army was based. Japan, reportedly had brothels for its military since 1932. But, it became more widespread after the troops rampaged the Chinese city of Nanking and raped between 20,000 and 80,000 Chinese women.

After this incident, Emperor Hirohito ordered an increase in such military brothels to prevent such incidents from being repeated, prevent the outbreak of diseases and satiate the appetite of Japanese troops.

The military set up brothels, where initially there were adult prostitutes, mainly women from poor Japanese families, but, later the troops kidnapped and tricked many women and girls into working in the brothels, where conditions were inhumane. It was only in the 1990s that the women started coming forth and voicing their trauma. And lawsuits were filed against Japan seeking accountability and financial compensation. 

"We will continue to keep records of the comfort women and hope the truth about the sexual violence does not disappear with their deaths," The Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation said. "We will continue to demand that the Japanese government apologise and compensate these women and their families," it added.

There are numerous memorials dedicated to the Japanese contribution to Taiwan during the colonial period. However, it was only in 2018 that the first memorial to 'comfort women' was erected in Tainan. 

The issue of 'comfort women' has been a sore point in Japan's relations with its neighbours. 

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