Women in Japan

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Women in Japan

By Tina Burrett


A Japanese woman walking (Magdalena Roeseler under a Creative Commons Licence)

Living in Japan is often like living in a vision of the future from the 1950s, with lots of modern innovations but also a lot of gender separation, like in The Jetsons cartoon.

I have lived here for 8 years and I love the country. A report says recently that Tokyo is the most liveable city in the world. It is safe, has very good services and a lot of food and culture.

But when I became pregnant last year, I started to see a different Japan.

Many people living outside Japan think it is like the world of the future. But Japan is in the world of the past with gender equality. In the 2014 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, Japan is 104 out of 142.

If you are pregnant in many countries, people think you belong to the public. People you don’t know give advice and opinions, usually trying to help. Often, you can ignore this advice. But in Japan, I couldn’t.

Medical evidence shows that regular exercise makes childbirth easier. But when I was 5 months pregnant, my gym asked me to leave. They didn’t ask me. I was running, and they asked my husband to tell me to leave.

There are not as many choices for the birth in Japan as in other developed countries. Only a few private hospitals have pain relief, like epidurals. Doctors told my pregnant Japanese friends to go on diets so they don’t put on too much weight.

It is good that Japan has some of the lowest mother and child mortality rates in the world. But it also has one of the lowest birth rates – only 1.4 in 2014. The population is decreasing.

This is because of the business culture in Japan. New graduates get ‘jobs for life’, so it is difficult to have a break from work to have children, or to find a new job when you go back to work when the children are older. It is impossible to have both a family and a job because of the long hours, 6-day work weeks and the business drinking culture where employees have to meet people so they can get better jobs.

There is a lot of discrimination, so women cannot get promotion. Female graduates with the same qualifications as men often stay in low-level administration jobs in Japanese companies. But the men progress to top management. Only 2% of Japan’s top executives are women, compared to 35% in Norway and 20% in France.

There is not much choice of childcare so it is difficult for working parents. In 2014, about 21,000 Japanese families could not find a nursery place for their child.

There are restrictions on immigration so there are not many people who offer childcare in their homes. So about 70% of Japanese women leave work after they have a baby. Many women never return to paid work; if they do, they often have jobs below their level.

In 2012, 77% of Japan’s part-time and temporary workers were women. So women earned 26.5% less than men in Japan (the OECD average in 2011 was 14.8% less).

Legally, both men and women can have time off work for childcare. But in 2013, only 2% of Japanese fathers took paternity leave. This is probably because of the cultural expectations that women should stay at home with the baby. Also they are worried that they will not get promotion if they take time off work. .

Also, there are very few women in Japanese politics. Only 11% of Japan’s members of parliament are women. This means Japan is 129th in the world list of female political power, below Saudi Arabia and Syria.

In April 2013, Japan’s Prime Minster Shinzo Abe said that he wanted women to ‘shine’ in the Japanese economy. He wanted to make ‘womenomics’ a very important part of his plans for growth (but the word shine means ‘die!’ in Japanese).

But Abe has not done much to make women equal to men. He has used more energy to say the Korean sex slaves Japan used to have in World War Two were not important than to give modern women power.

It is no surprise that Abe is not committed to equality. Before, he wanted to change the Japanese constitution to make ‘traditional values’ more important than universal human rights.

In 2005, Abe said that they could lose traditions like the Festival of the Dolls –celebrating young girls and their hopes for future marriage - if they have new government policies for equality between men and women.

When Abe was first Prime Minister in 2007, his Health Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa said women are ‘birth-giving machines’. He said that if more women stayed home they would have more babies, and produce more future workers.

Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has a lot of male chauvinism. In June 2014, LDP men shouted sexist comments at female lawmaker Ayaka Shiomura. They said she is single and has no children. She was talking to the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly about maternity support and other women’s issues.

In September 2014, Abe brought 5 new women into his cabinet. But 2 female ministers had to leave the job quickly because of a finance scandal. Some men in government told people about this because they wanted the jobs in the cabinet instead.

If there was more gender equality in Japan, there would be more opportunities for women. Also, it would improve the economy, as 8 million women could work.

If Japan had the right laws, Japanese women could make Japan a place where I’d be very proud to have a son.

Tina Burrett is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Sophia University, Tokyo.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/blog/2015/06/16/the-japanese-dolls-house/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).