‘COMFORT WOMEN’ IN ASIA: ALONE IN ATROCITY, TOGETHER FOR JUSTICE

Monday Nov 3rd, 2014, New College, University of Toronto

Reviewed by Lise Watson

This moving event presented as part of Holocaust Education Week in Toronto proved that using art as a way to heal emotional and physical trauma can do wonders.  ’Comfort Women’ is a euphemism for prostitute that is applied to the 200,000 or so women in forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during the Asia-Pacific war from 1941 – 45.

My awareness of their very existence and their plight came only recently, but the struggle for acknowledgement and compensation has been a long one.  Toronto ALPHA (Association for Learning and Preserving the History of WWII in Asia) is dedicated to creating awareness and support for the ‘Comfort Women’ in their quest for an official Japanese Government apology and justice for all survivors.  And throughout this evening we were reminded of the power of storytelling and art in the process of healing.

We heard from a variety of academics and artists, all committed to sharing and educating on a subject which is very difficult.  It’s a challenging task but so necessary if a way towards reconciliation and peace is to be achieved.

A trailer for the upcoming documentary, directed by Tiffany Hsiung, “Within Every Woman” was beautiful if heart wrenching as we met with survivors, or ‘The Grandmothers’ as they are lovingly referred to, some of whom only recently began to reveal the horrors of the past.  Women from Korean, the Philippines, Indonesia and China were brought together for first time to share and gain strength from communicating their shared experiences.  When it is completed and released next year, this film will go a long way in contributing to the healing and awareness objectives of these precious women.

Thea van der Wal, author of the memoir “I Thought You Should Know” gave an emotional interview recounting her early years of growing up in a prison camp in Indonesia, and the pain she continues to suffer after finding out after her mother’s death, that her mother had been forced into sexual slavery.

Joshua Pilzer, Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology, Faculty of Music, University of Toronto
and author of “Hearts of Pine: Songs in the Lives of Three Korean Survivors of the Japanese ‘Comfort Women'” gave a fascinating presentation of some of these special songs he has collected.

The evening wrapped up with a panel discussion of how survivors struggle for justice and strive for peace and reconciliation, with guests Angela Lytle, Executive Director, Women’s Human Rights Education Institute OISE, University of Toronto, Diana Tso Performer/Playwright/Poet/Storyteller/Artist in Education Artistic Director of Red Snow Collective, and Flora Chong, Executive Director, Toronto Association of Learning and Preserving the History of WWII in Asia.

It was an emotionally draining evening but so very worthwhile.  Toronto ALPHA is to be commended for presenting a fine evening.    This was co-presented with The Equity Studies Program – New College at the University of Toronto, and the Sarah and Chaim Holocaust Education Centre.

http://www.torontoalpha.org

 

 

 

 

 

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