Book cover for ‘Systemic Silencing’/ Image of Indonesian ‘comfort women’ by feminist scholar and artist Dewi Candraningrum.

During its Occupation of East Asian and Southeast Asian countries in World War II, including the Netherlands Indies, the Japanese military installed a system of enforced prostitution, known euphemistically as the ‘comfort women’ system.

Today these crimes are relatively well-known and condemned. In 1993 the Japanese state issued an apology known as the Kōno statement. In the 1980s and 1990s, a transnational activist movement which included women from Korea, Japan, the Philippines and elsewhere, began to speak out and make demands for redress. In Indonesia, however, activism on the so-called ‘comfort women’ issue was slower to emerge, faced with challenges from both inside and outside the country.

In her new book ‘Systemic Silencing: Activism, Memory and Sexual Violence in Indonesia’, Kate McGregor takes a close look at the system itself and seeks to understand it in the context of Indonesia’s own colonial and post-colonial history. What were the social contexts in Indonesia prior to and following the Japanese Occupation in relation to women, sexual exploitation and prostitution? What did it take for the voices of these survivors to be heard? How is this period in Indonesia’s history remembered today? And what are its legacies for activism on sexual violence?

In this week’s episode Jemma Purdey chats with Kate McGregor, professor of Southeast Asian history in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne.

In 2023, the Talking Indonesia podcast is co-hosted by Dr Jemma Purdey from Monash University Dr Jacqui Baker from Murdoch University, Dr Elisabeth Kramer from the University of New South Wales and Tito Ambyo from RMIT.

Look out for a new Talking Indonesia podcast every fortnight. Catch up on previous episode here, subscribe via Apple Podcasts or listen via your favourite podcasting app.

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