In this paper Kate McGregor will draw on research conducted for her ARC Future Fellowship to examine which factors led to an escalation of activism in Korea and Japan from the late 1980s onwards on behalf of the so called “comfort women”, women subjected to enforced military prostitution by the Japanese army during World War Two. In particular McGregor will trace how legal based activism and feminist based activism in both countries drove this process. She will also focus on how new attention to Japanese imperial history and people’s history as well contemporary trends across women’s activism in both countries underpinned this process. She uses these histories to ask critical questions about the relatively slow development of activism on this topic in Indonesia paying attention to how other factors in Indonesian society restrained not only human rights based activism, but also attention to sexual violence and why critical histories of Japanese imperialism and militarism have been slower to develop here. McGregor will critically examine early framings of this issue in Indonesia in news reporting and within the early activism of LBH (Indonesian Legal Aid).
Associate Professor Katharine McGregor teaches Southeast Asian History at the University of Melbourne. Her first book, History in Uniform: Military Ideology and the Construction of the Indonesian Past (NUS Press, 2007), explored the historical orthodoxy of the military dominated Suharto regime. She has subsequently focused her research on the case of the politics of memory and the 1965 violence in Indonesia resulting in many journal articles and two edited books The Contours of Mass Violence in Indonesia (2012) edited with Douglas Kammen and The Indonesian Genocide: Causes, Dynamics and Legacies (Palgrave McMillan 2017) co-edited with Pohlman and Melvin. She is currently co-editing a new volume on gendered violence in Indonesia and writing a manuscript on transnational activism for the Indonesian comfort women.
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Photo: The ‘Column of Strength’ statue in San Francisco’s Chinatown memorializes the hundreds of thousands of so-called comfort women who were sex-trafficked by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. By Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.