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Story Publication logo March 9, 2021

Encore Episode: Cheryl Diaz Meyer, Pulitzer Prize-winning Photojournalist

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During World War II, hundreds of thousands of women and girls were taken by force, some as young as...


Image courtesy of ADECIBEL.

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day that helps nations celebrate the elimination of discrimination against women.

Listen to Cheryl Diaz Meyer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, as she shares intimate details of and the inspiration for her recent project with NPR that shines a light on the last living “Comfort Women” of the Philippines. Click here to listen to the interview.

The “Comfort Women” story was supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Yunghi Kim Grant.

To learn more about Diaz Meyer, her work, and future exhibits, visit her website.

View her photos and read the NPR article on the last living “Comfort Women” of the Philippines.

Filipina 'Comfort Women'

Photos by Cheryl Diaz Meyer

All over the Philippines, in grandiose mansions, schools, hospitals — churches even — women and girls were systematically raped and tortured in military brothels, some as young as 8 years old, as part of Japan’s effort to keep the Japanese Imperial Army soldiers from rebelling during World War II. Assaulted by up to 30 men daily, three quarters of the women did not survive their abuse. Of the estimated 1,000 "Comfort Women" in the Philippines, some 40 are still living. Most are physically frail, and some have succumbed to dementia. These portraits and quiet moments capture a story of survivors.


Lola Pilar Galang is one of the last living "Comfort Women" of the Philippines. On November 23, 1944, Galang and some 100 other girls and women were taken to the Bahay na Pula, also known as the Red House, and were systematically raped by the Japanese Imperial Army as they retreated from the country at the end of World War II. Galang was 9 years old at the time of the assaults. Photo taken in Pampanga, Philippines, on May 19, 2019.

Lolas Remedios Tecson, Estela Adriatico, Narcisa Claveria, Felicidad delos Reyes and Estelita Dy, left to right, were only teenagers when they were sexually enslaved by the Japanese Imperial Army soldiers in the Philippines during World War II. Some 1,000 women and girls were used as "Comfort Women" in the Philippines, while in occupied countries throughout Asia there were 200,000. Three quarters of the women did not survive their harrowing abuse. Photo taken on April 28, 2019.

Lola Maria Estadio Arroyo, 87, was 12 years old when she was sexually enslaved for three months in Roxas City, Philippines, by the Japanese Imperial Army soldiers during World War II. She eventually married David Arroyo and had seven children with him, but he became abusive in his later years, beating her with wooden planks or his fists, until his passing in 1997. In her old age, Arroyo is frail and cared for by her daughter Lolita Arroyo Acuyong. She suffers from a herpes infection that has destroyed most of her hearing. Photo taken on May 28, 2019.

“When we arrived to the Red House, I was pushed so hard that I lost consciousness so I don’t recall what happened to me…but even today, I feel the pain in my body,” said Lola Maria Lalu Quilantang, 83, who was 9 years old when her village of Mapaniqui in Pampanga, Philippines, was attacked by the Japanese during World War II. All the men were killed and the women and girls were forced to walk to the Red House carrying the loot that the Japanese soldiers stole from them. The once regal mansion owned by a Filipino doctor was used as a garrison and “comfort station,” where the women and girls, some as young as 8, were raped all night by the Japanese Imperial Army. Photo taken on May 19, 2019.

Lolas Pilar Galang and Belen Alarcon Culala, left and right, support each other as they walk through the Bahay na Pula, also known as the Red House. The women were children when their village of Mapaniqui in Pampanga, Philippines, was attacked by the Japanese Imperial Army. All the men and boys were killed and the women and girls were forced to walk to the Bahay na Pula, also known as the Red House, carrying the loot that the Japanese soldiers stole from them. The once regal mansion owned by a Filipino doctor was used as a garrison and “comfort station,” where the women and girls, some as young as 8, were systematically raped all night. Photo taken on May 19, 2019.

Lolas Isabelita Vinuya, Belen Alarcon Culala and Maria Lalu Quilantang visit in Culala’s home in Mapaniqui, Pampanga, Philippines. The longtime friends and neighbors grew up together. Mapaniqui was attacked by the Japanese during World War II as they searched for guerrillas. All the men and boys were killed and the women and girls were forced to walk to the Red House carrying the loot that the Japanese soldiers stole from them. The once regal mansion owned by a Filipino doctor was used as a garrison and “comfort station,” where the women and girls, some as young as 8, were raped all night by the Japanese Imperial Army. Photo taken on May 20, 2019.

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