“Sexual Violence in Conflict (SVC) is still ongoing,” exclaimed Professor Kim Eun-mee from the Dept. of International Studies at Ewha Womans University. Although the issue is somewhat obscured or ignored, untold numbers of women around the world are groaning from the pain of sexual violence. To address the SVC issue, The Republic of Korea (ROK) government convened the first international conference on “Action with Women and Peace” from July 2 to 3 in a bid to urge a global partnership to combat the sexual violence problem. After attending the conference, The Argus met Prof. Kim, the head of the committee set up to accelerate the congress. She emphasized: “Women are not just victims, but they should become victors of their lives.”
The Comfort Women Negotiation was the starting point
Kim mentioned that the conference this year starts by looking back upon the “Comfort Women Agreement” in 2015. In December of that year, the Park Geun-hye government settled this very controversial issue with Japan. The agreement provoked a fierce amount of controversy since during the negotiations the surviving comfort women’s opinions were not considered. In 2017, however, the Moon Jae-in administration reexamined the whole process of the highly debated treaty. Kim was one of the civil consultants of the procedure.
The main problem with the dialogue was clear. “The then-government excluded the victims from talking with Tokyo,” said Kim. The ROK government then launched the “Action with Women and Peace” Initiative in June 2018 in an effort not to repeat the survivors’ sufferings. The initiative stresses the importance of women’s roles in solving the sexual violence issue and building peace. The international conference held this summer was a part of this project for a specific discussion on Women, Peace, and Security Agenda.
Two main pillars of “Action with Women and Peace” Initiative
(1) to support projects that address the needs of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations, prevent sexual violence, and enhance the capacities of communities
(2) to convene an annual international conference solely dedicated to discuss issues of critical importance to Women, Peace, and Security Agenda
Sexual violence equals a traffic accident
In disputed areas, how is sexual violence committed and defined? Many speakers of the conference concurred that SVC is a weapon of war. It is a premediated crime designed to weaken the other country or group’s solidarity. As being a planned act, the crime’s cruelty is quite beyond imagination.
This reporter was shocked at what presenter Dr. Denis Mukwege illustrated in his keynote speech. The medical director Dr. Mukwege, a 2018 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has dedicated himself for a long time to healing and supporting the victims of SVC. “Sexually abused victims’ ages vary from a six-month-old baby to an eighty-year-old woman,” he said. They are not raped just one time. After repeated abuse, a majority of women and girls are often taken to the hospital with their genital areas significantly damaged.
But their emotional wounds are more difficult to be recovered. Why? Misconceptions of sexual violence is the obstacle, mentioned Kim. She pinpointed that most of us console a sufferer of unavoidable events like traffic accidents while acting indifferently towards sexual violence victims.
“Many lay the fault of sexual abuse at the victim’s feed, with terms such as, ‘You were molested because of your short skirt.’ These words, however, express the same meaning as, ‘You were in a car accident since you walked along the road’.” Per this message, countless victims of SVC are regarded as “impure” and seen unfairly as the most “marginalized” group in their community.
Power to women and girls
The most impressive program of the conference was Session 2: Ensuring a Survivor-centered Approach. Three national coordinators presented who belong to the Global Network of Victims and Survivors to End Wartime Sexual Violence. Among the coordinators who confessed their agony courageously, The Argus was touched by the coordinator Mer Ayang of The Republic of South Sudan. She said, “The boy soldiers who assaulted me were also victims of war in a broad sense.” Prof. Kim said she felt the same as the writer.
“The power of Ayang’s words comes from her self-confidence. She does not hate the perpetrators but rather understands their inevitable conditions. How many tears did she shed in order to reach that comprehension?”
What will it take for us to see more survivors speaking like Ayang? The professor thinks the answer is a “bottom-up” approach, versus a “top-down” approach, as a way to solve the SVC issue. With the latter, countries or organizations unilaterally offer protection and support to victims. The former focuses on helping survivors become empowered. Women gradually grow into subjects of their own lives with medical care and education service.
Kim is also a bottom-up activist. She is keen on girls’ health in developing countries as a director of the Global Health Institute for Girls. The current reality the girls are facing is horrible. Early marriage and premature birth are conventional in under-developed nations. “It is not uncommon in developing nations for a nine-year-old girl to die of premature birth and a ten-year-old to get pregnant,” added Kim in accents of grief.
The pregnant girls whose bodies are too immature have a high chance of dying after giving birth. They cannot afford to attend school post-partum. To keep girls from this type of situation, Kim travels to developing countries and provides proper sex education to students and teachers. She is also studying on how the girls are able to stay healthy and to undergo basic education at school.
My work helps everyone
Since 1997, when having come to Ewha, Kim has tirelessly worked in the International Development Cooperation (IDC) field. We asked her to give some advice for HUFSans who dream of becoming global leaders. The professor stressed that HUFSans must remember not only countries that we need to work with but also countries that need our help.
“HUFS leaves the door open for all the countries in the world. Strong and weak nations coexist around the globe. Basically, for the amount of effects that you have, you can do one amount of good in the former, but ten times as much good in the latter with the IDC.”
Finally, Kim called for the youth to pay attention to the IDC, stating that her work also makes her feel fulfilled.
“Among college students, some study for their own future and well-being while those who do not simply exist. I hope more and more young people contribute to others’ happiness as well as for themselves.”