Subject: [cwj 129] Women Find Strength in Uncertain Times
From: Corporate Watch in Japanese <>
Date: Mon, 27 Nov 2000 19:08:40 -0800
Seq: 129

Women Find Strength in Uncertain Times

By Suvendrini Kakuchi

TOKYO, Nov 6 (IPS) - Japan's lingering political and economic
malaise has given new strength to women, who find that hard times
have freed them from old constraints that forced them to take
second place to men.

''More men than women are in despair over the 'fall' of Japan,
as analysts describe the current national situation,'' says Kaori
Sasaki, 45, who recently launched the highly successful website
called eWoman. ''For energetic and ambitious Japanese women, the
time cannot be better.''

Indeed, as experts point out, the rising number of bankruptcies
and lack of political leadership in Japan have squarely toppled
the earlier era where men, not women, commanded respect and
admiration in Japanese society.

They point to the sagging popularity of men seen in almost
daily media reports about top male businessmen or politicians
accused of bad management, bribe-taking or unscrupulous behaviour.
These, critics say, are responsible for Japan's dwindling economic
fortunes and decreasing international stature.

Last week, the Japanese public was treated to the dirty details
of the bankruptcy of Sogo Department Store, one of the country's
leading chain stores that symbolised Japan's postwar economic

Its former chairman, 88-year-old Hiroo Mizushima, apologised to
the public on Nov. 1 for the collapse of the glitzy store chain.
He is facing a lawsuit for mismanagement that led to the company's
collapse. Two other male executives had committed suicide when
Sogo declared bankruptcy.

Women politicians may also be experiencing a boom in popular

Just weeks ago, Etsudo Kawada, who campaigned on a platform
supporting the rights of patients and consumers, won a Tokyo by-
election. She had earlier won a lawsuit against a male doctor
whose clinic had given her son tainted blood with HIV.

In comparison to the dismal picture in established business and
political circles, Sasaki's eWoman portrays a scenario of many
different opportunities for women at this time.

The site eWomen, which now boasts of 50,000 subscribers after
its launch in September, is one of a dozen such sites aimed at
women. But Sasaki says the free website aims to help ordinary
women launch their own careers in a country that is still largely
male-dominated when it comes to career advancement.

Women directors or general managers accounted for just 2.1
percent of the total in 1999, according to the Management and
Coordination Agency. Figures for women department heads were also
at a mere 3.4 percent, and section chiefs at 8.2 percent.

But these shocking statistics have actually helped launch the
age of the woman in Japan, says Kazue Suzuki, a freelance reporter
specialising in gender issues.

''Now women can turn around and say, 'look its time for women
to take over because the way men lead Japan is not going to work
any more','' she argues.

The Internet has provided a crucial opportunity for women in
Japan. Sasaki points out that Japanese women have to juggle work
and career -- and her website allows women to do both.

The site offers a variety of information on jobs, career
counseling, parenting advice, and social tips that include how to
spend a quiet evening with your husband or lover.

''The site is an example of how women want Japan to be hard
driven, but at the same time a society that still has a lot of
time for family and social life,'' explains Sasaki.

At the top of the list of problems faced by career-seeking
women is household chores. Surveys by the Prime Minister's gender
equality section reveals, after all, that less than 20 percent of
Japanese men take responsibility for family care.

''When I was just entering the job market, it was common for
women to still choose between family and career because Japanese
men were supposed to the breadwinners,'' explains Sasaki. ''But
today I believe that women can have both.''

Japan's changed younger generation also represents the
challenges faced by men in the country.

Teenage mothers sporting tanned skin and trendy mini-skirts are
a far cry from their own mothers, who retired to be homemakers
once they have gotten married.

Yuko Hayashi, a 20-year-old mother with two children, plans to
go back to school in a few years' time. ''I asked my husband to
cooperate and he has agreed. We have asked his parents to help
with babysitting,'' she says.

Masami Ohinata, a professor of psychology and women's studies
at Keisen Jogakuen College, says younger women now have more
courage to follow their own paths while ignoring social pressures
to follow the traditional image of a good mother.

Thirty-year-old Mayumi Takahashi, who works as an aerobic
instructor, agrees. She lives with her parents and is planning to
find work soon on a cruise ship to be able to see the world.

''I would never live like my mother when she was young. I think
Japan will have more women like me in the future, a situation that
will make the country a much more interesting place to live in,''
Takahashi laughs. (END/IPS/ap-dv-ip/sk/js/00)


       [c] 2000, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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