Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Post-doc Lin Li compares and contrasts sexual assault awareness movements

Lin Li addresses a group sitting around tables

Lin Li, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research, recently joined the Center for Human Rights and International Justice for a talk entitled “From the ‘Comfort Women’ Redress Movement to the #MeToo Movement.” As a transnational and intersectional gender studies scholar, her work centers around East Asian gender and women’s history. Her dissertation narrated Japanese military sexual slavery during World War II, examining how the category of “human” is tied to sexism, ableism, and colonialism. Her lunch talk drew from this body of work, providing context about the so-called “comfort women” and their entrapment in a modern system of sexual slavery, the history of UN action on wartime sexual violence, and the ongoingo redress movement that seeks justice for survivors.

Drawing parallels between the “comfort women” redress movement and the contemporary #MeToo movement, Li emphasized that both movements started with “one courageous survivor” coming forward with a story that initiated a ripple effect into a mass organization of socially-ignited, engaged individuals seeking a common purpose. These movements also both stress a need for fundamental change at a structural level, using technological, social, and political tactics to fervently assert the urgent need to center women’s rights in conversations surrounding human rights. Li explained: “Both movements have pushed back on the prevalent idea that the experience of sexual violence is a private matter unsuitable for public discussion.”

Li also examined the differences between the two movements, stressing the role of colonialism and war in producing sexual violence in the case of the “comfort women.” Providing a history of this relationship, she detailed the lack of indictment against perpetrators of sexual violence in the 1945 International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg and in the 1946 Tokyo War Crimes Trial. Li emphasized that rape was often considered a “natural result” of warfare and not as its own class of human rights violation under the law. However, she explained that the 1993 International Criminal Tribunal on the Former Yugoslavia successfully set a precedent of sexual violence being tried as a crime of war and allowed for the “reconceptualization of rape as a violation of human rights,” which expanded the scope of legal action.

Moving forward, Li highlighted the need for nations to reflect on their roles in the marginalization of comfort women post-World War II and expressed concern for nations who have used the comfort women as a “bargaining chip” against Japan for political motives. Emotionally sharing the personal stories of women enslaved by the Japanese military, Li stressed the need to destigmatize victims and instead view them as “empowered agents of social change” and “active political subjects,” centering victim narratives within social movements and building transnational feminist solidarity.