I came to know about ‘comfort women’ after going through an article that was published in Ananda Bazaar Patrika on the eve of Women’s Day couple of years back. I was numb and could not move an inch. My mind was totally shut down and I remained in that state for quite some time.
Then I began my research on the plight of women and children when a war breaks out. The colonisation of female body is not a new thing in our society. Religion, society, politics have planned a major role in possessing a women’s body. It’s been there since time immemorial.
War has a detrimental effect on women and children as they are the most vulnerable. Women and children are forced to join the sex industry to keep them alive since poverty has been a major player in it.
War and the preparation for war has been a major factor in the increasing number of women and children in the sex industry.
The military is also a large abuser of the sex industry. In many areas around the world military bases have been set up. Here grows an economy that is based on the sex industry in order to cater to the military’s needs. Many bases are crucial to the economic survival of their surrounding communities. The Philippines for instance, had many American army and air force bases in the country and as a result many bars, clubs, and hotels have been built around the base in order to serve the entertainment purposes of the military men. The military often acts as a reminder of colonial superiority and imperial overstretch especially when they are occupying a country. Not only does the military physically occupy a country, but they also use the people in the occupied lands. Military men are inculcated with the ideas of racial superiority, patriotism, and hyper masculinization.
Hyper masculinity within a culture’s structure is the cultivation of masculinity that especially emphasizes dominance, control and strength. Men are socialized to believe that women will and ought to serve their sexual needs and that access to women is their right. This is what the patriarchal view centres on- the idea of male superiority and women being considered as property. Male domination and entitlement comes with being the colonizing force- they feel that they have a right to the land and the tourists who now visit Asia on sex tours feel that they have a right to the people. The sexual use of women is tied to men’s power to control and dominate those with less power, and their sense of entitlement extends to those perceived as vulnerable to domination. The denigration and racism held by the military is reinforced by the dehumanizing military propaganda about the enemies. That is the reason service men are complacent about the gross usage of foreign women as sexual objects.
The bodies of women are another means of dominance over the enemy as a form of military conquest.
The Japanese military first used poor Japanese women to travel with them as comfort women. When World War II evolved the Japanese government and military committed more egregious crimes against women, and Korean women in particular, since they were considered the occupied country. As the Japanese advanced in their attempts to colonize Asia in the early twentieth Century, they kidnapped, deceived and forced approximately 200,00 Korean, 800 Taiwanese, 60,00 Indonesians, Chinese and Filipino women into brothels as sex slaves, whom they euphemistically called comfort women.
The military socializes men into very violent worlds and emotional disconnect so that they begin to have little moral accountability and less regard for the sovereignty of women. The crimes that Korean comfort women experienced as sexual slaves during the Japanese occupation were devastating and little reparation has been paid to the women, much less an apology by the Japanese government. The women were repeatedly raped and given medicine that supposedly treated syphilis and prevented pregnancy.
“I was a ‘comfort woman’ between the ages of 14 and 19. Most of the girls were 16 to 19 years old. They all had been abducted and brought to the camp like me. During those years I received about 12 soldiers by midnight. After midnight one soldier often stayed with me through the night. Weekends were much worse. I was forced to service men from early in the morning to late at night with almost no time to rest and after that spend the rest of the night with yet another man. Frequently I did not have time for a meal. On days like this I became feverish. Some girls serviced up to 50 men a day.” (Jin Kyung-paeng, 72 year old former comfort woman).
War and military occupation are detrimental side effects to poor countries and many more deteriorating side effects for women often go unrecognized. The Thai sex industry had its major start during the Vietnam War as their country was commissioned to be a station for American G.Is as a spot for R&R, or rest and relaxation. The Philippines also got its start as an R&R spot for American soldiers during the Vietnam War. However, the sex industry grew after several American military bases were contracted such as Subic Naval Base, Clark Air Base, and the US Naval Communications Station.
The Philippines has been marred with the history of colonization starting with the Spanish rule. In pre-Spanish Philippines, women enjoyed relative equality with men as it was an egalitarian society that has respect for women and mothers. When the Spanish arrived they imposed Catholic patriarchy as well as the idea of white, Eurocentric supremacy. Women had to be subordinate to fathers, husbands, and priests. Many of the indigenous Filipinos were raped by the Spaniards and then transformed into prostitutes. This is the first incident of the usage of indigenous women’s bodies by the imperialist power. However, it has continued with Americans and Japanese entering into the Philippines and using their economic and political prowess to extract raw materials, cheap labor, and female subordination. The Spanish colonial rule ended after the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War.
Then there was the US colonial rule until World War II when the Japanese occupied the Philippine lands. After the Japanese occupation the country was left in such ruins and poverty. Desperate for American economic aid, the government of the Philippines agreed to ruinous trade agreements with the United States and a ninety-nine years lease on a number of military and naval bases in the Philippines over which the US government exercised virtually all territorial rights.
The Americans built many stations such as air force and naval bases, communication centres and naval radio centres. Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Force Base were the largest and are considered a valuable strategic standpoint in the Northeast Asian region. The bases serve as a springboard for US intervention in the internal affairs of their host countries as well, which is a major force in neo-imperialism. What grew around the American bases and ports of arrival in the cities of Olongapo and Pampanga was a sexual service sector devoted to the American clientele.
Olongapo used to be a small fishing village, but its conversion into a naval base by the Americans transformed it into a city of hotels, saunas, massage parlors, and women for sale. The Philippines has served as a popular R&R stop for Americans during the Vietnam War, Korean War and also during the Gulf War, since the sobering atmosphere of the Muslim countries necessitated the G.Is to find sexual satisfaction in the shores of another country. 7,000 to 10,000 sailors would disembark into the throngs of women ready to greet them because of poverty they face in life. The internal rape of the people and minds as well as the pejorative international reputation that the Philippines receives does more harm than good for the country regardless of the foreign income that is brought in (though when actually tabulated is very little). The US uses the Third World like a man uses a prostitute. Flirts with her a little, pretends she is human, maybe spends a little money on her to make her pretty, then, when he has got what he wanted- the natural resources, control of the economy, a dumping ground for useless commodities, complete subservience- he treats her like a whore.
So colonisation of women’s body has always been there. Both the women’s body and land are treated equally by the society.
About the Author
Sucheta Chakraborty is an Indian journalist and co-founder of ENEWSROOM. Currently lives in Kolkata. She calls herself a nonconformist.