Subject: AP: Justice campaign launched for "comfort women"

Justice campaign launched for "comfort women"

February 27, 2005 10:13am Associated Press WorldStream

NEW YORK_V-Day, an anti-violence movement founded by Eve Ensler, author of "The Vagina Monologues", launches a campaign Monday to seek an official apology and compensation for women forced into wartime brothels run by the Japanese army.

The Japanese government has refused to provide official compensation for the women, claiming postwar treaties dealt with the issue. Japanese courts have rejected several lawsuits brought by the former sex slaves known as "comfort women."

Historians estimate 200,000 women, mostly from Korea and the Philippines but also from China, Indonesia and the Netherlands, were pressed into prostitution for millions of Japanese soldiers stationed throughout Asia before and during World War II. Some were forced to sleep with up to fifty men a day.

"I was so incredibly moved by their struggle," said Ensler. "They are such amazing women. They have such dignity and wisdom and their lives have been hell. They have not had justice."

"If the Japanese government were to admit it happened and say they were sorry, it would be a huge statement for the world," she added.

V-Day, a global movement against violence against women and girls, began in 1998 on Valentine's Day as a benefit performance of "The Vagina Monologues." The play by Ensler is based on interviews with more than 200 women about their memories and experiences of sexuality.

By last year, V-Day had grown to 2,300 benefit shows in 76 countries. It has raised more than $26 million (?19.75 million) for shelters for battered women, rape hot lines, safe houses in Africa to protect women from genital mutilation and other causes.

V-Day's will unveil its plans for a spotlight campaign on the "comfort women" with groups from South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, East Timor and the Netherlands at the UN Plaza Hotel in New York on Monday. The launch is timed to coincide with a session of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.

The global campaign includes a petition seeking one million signatures to be presented to the United Nations demanding that Japan take legal responsibility for crimes of military sexual slavery and protesting Japan's aim to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

Other campaign events include the construction of museums in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan documenting the enslavement of the "comfort women", demonstrations in the Netherlands, a street march in Taiwan, as well as photo exhibits and testimonial books in Japan, the Philippines and Taiwan.

Celebrity benefit performances of "The Vagina Monologues" in July in Seoul, Korea and Tokyo will feature the stories of the "comfort women" in a monologue written by Ensler.

The campaign will culminate with a day of demonstrations outside Japanese embassies around the world on Aug. 10.

The "comfort women," many of whom are in their eighties, will not attend Monday's event in New York but Ensler is hoping to bring them to Washington later this year.

"We are celebrating the fierce spirit and resistance of these women," Ensler said. "The comfort women are now speaking out. It is a celebration of them."

Ensler added: "Everyone in the world honors those women because they are old. They don't have much time left."

She described a meeting with some of the women in Manila. "I asked if any of them had had an orgasm and none of them had, but they said the greatest orgasm is knowing that Japanese are not lying on top of you."

Ensler waives royalty fees for benefit shows of "The Vagina Monologues" as long as proceeds are donated to stopping violence against women and girls. Organizers of benefits in 2006 will be asked to donate up to 10 percent of their proceeds to the campaign for the "comfort women."

The spotlight campaign this year has been for Iraqi women and last year's V-Day spotlight was on the hundreds of women and girls who have disappeared or been killed in the Mexican border city of Juarez.

"The Vagina Monologues" has been translated into 35 languages and performed by stars including Jane Fonda, Winona Ryder, Kylie Minogue, Susan Sarandon, Salma Hayek and Whoopi Goldberg.

Ensler says she never expected her one-woman off-Broadway show would become a global phenomenon.

"I was amazed. What is truly incredible is that this movement has a life of its own. We have never promoted the play. It has spread like wildfire," she said.

The V in V-Day stands for Victory over Violence, Valentine and Vagina, Ensler said. Asked to explain V-Day's success, she said: "I think women are hungry to be empowered and feel good about their vaginas ... women are hungry to be in a community of women."

Hibaaq Osman, V-Day Special Representative to Africa, Asia and the Middle East, said: "The uniqueness of the play lies in when women start telling stories they have never told anyone else. Some will tell about rape, some will tell about abuse, giving birth, their relationships."

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