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Comfort Women Statues: The Reason Behind San Francisco's Tense Relations with Osaka

Comfort Women Statues: The Reason Behind San Francisco's Tense Relations with Osaka

In September 2017, the city of San Francisco unveiled a controversial statue that commemorated the hundreds of thousands of detained women who were forced to serve as “comfort women” for Japanese soldiers in the years before and during World War II.

Last September marked the first anniversary of the unveiling of the San Francisco statue that showcases three young women and one older woman from Korea, China, and the Philippines—where most of the women forced to serve in frontline brothels were taken from—holding hands and on top of a column that represents women’s strengths.

Rather than officially apologizing to the women who were wrongly coerced and deceived by the Japanese to work in brothels during World War II, the Japanese government has begun to argue that these statues wrongfully place the blame wholly on the Japanese. In a ten-page letter addressed to San Francisco’s mayor, London Breed, Osaka’s mayor, Hirofumi Yoshimura, severed ties with the sister city of San Francisco because they wrongly targeted Japan as the sole perpetrators of sexual abuse towards thousands of women during wartime when many other soldiers from different nations also behaved in similar ways. Osaka’s mayor has viewed the comfort women statue as a sign of harming the trust between the “sister” cities.

The main leaders and advocates for the comfort women movements in Asia, especially Korea, are aging and there are not many first-hand victims remaining. This has led to multiple leaders of a coalition formed to protect human rights in the San Francisco area to start the movement to ensure the building of the comfort women statue in the city.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan has also criticized the statue with its status as a city monument to be “deeply regrettable.” The Japanese government has refused to accept legal responsibility for the horrible violations of not only women’s rights but also human rights since the comfort women stations were revealed to the international public and victims began to speak out.

These actions by the mayor of Osaka and the Japanese government have been seen by many human rights activists and coalitions as an attempt to remove a stain in Japanese history and reputation. However, regardless of the condemnation of the very relevant statue by a select few, the bronze monument has become an indispensable part of San Francisco’s culture to bring awareness towards issues that are of paramount importance to women everywhere.

With women’s rights and human rights sadly still considered controversial topics, the comfort women statue, currently proudly symbolizing the struggles Asian women faced during the dark times of warfare, serves as a step forward in the path of defiance against misogyny. The constant blind eye towards sexual abuse and the violations of women’s rights has trampled on our basic morality and ethics. San Francisco’s monument has encouraged a movement to fight back to gain the lost lives of women all over the world and to seek moral retribution for the crimes committed against women.

This statue will not be taken down, despite the insistence of Osaka’s mayor. It will stand and make sure we never forget the mistakes of our history so that history will never be able to repeat itself.

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