Subject: [cwj 31] Still a Long Way from Gender Equality
From: Corporate Watch in Japanese <>
Date: Fri, 09 Jun 2000 14:34:51 -0700
Seq: 31

JAPAN: Still a Long Way from Gender Equality

By Suvendrini Kakuchi

TOKYO, Jun 5 (IPS) - Japan may keep on making breakthroughs in the
technological world, but when it comes to equality between the sexes, this
East Asian country remains a laggard.

Indeed, a year after the passage of the landmark Basic Law for Gender
Equality, Japanese women are still being seen as belonging more to the home
than anywhere else, says a new government report released last month.

Admits Tame Onishi, head of the Office of Gender Equality at the Prime
Minister's Office: ''Despite some important new legislation, there is still
a fixed perception of women as being more responsible for the family than
men, (and this) continues to undermine efforts to foster a society that
sees men and women as equal individuals.''

The situation could pose some problems in the future, the official hints.
''Japan in the 21st century cannot progress without men and women
respecting each other's human rights and share their happiness and
responsibilities,'' says Onishi.

She also points out that as Japan's society ages -- about 17 percent of
Japan's 126 million people are over 65 right now -- there are more women
outliving men. At the very least, says Onishi, women must be able to enjoy
their having longer lives.

But the report, which the gender law says should be made annually,
indicates that women are still being kept from achieving their full potential.

More than 21 percent of the male respondents between the ages of 18 to 24,
for example, agreed with the statement that ''men should go out and work
and women should take care of the home''. About 15 percent of the female
respondents in the same age bracket also agreed with the statement.

But more telling was the fact that 41.3 percent of fathers said yes to the
same statement, compared to the 24.3 percent of mothers.

And in the section that sought to determine who was taking care of the
elderly, 99.7 percent of the caregivers turned out to be women - yet
another indication of the persistence of traditional roles.

Mizuho Matsuda of the Asian Women's Fund says that ''there is no doubt that
traditional concepts are deep-rooted in society and forcing women to take
the backseat'' in many sectors, earn high pay and become leaders in
business and politics.

At the same time, Yoshiko Suzuki of the Japan Women's Network says that
another big problem confronting women in this country is a corporate system
that expects female employees to work long hours just like the men while
still being responsible for caring for the family.

More often than not, the harassed female worker chooses to just quit her
job and devoted her full time to the family.

Comments Kazue Suzuki, who has decided not to have children in order to
pursue a career: ''The bottom line is that unless women can hold jobs like
men, they lack the confidence to be treated equally to men.''

Onishi, though, says that the government has made some moves in response to
growing calls for better conditions for working women. One of these steps
is the setting up of a ''more effective'' daycare system that ''caters to
women's needs''.

While day care centres in cities are well-managed, mothers complain that
there is usually a long waiting list to get into any of them. The mothers
say the centres also close too early.

The government has now promised to remedy these.

Matsuda, for her part, wants to see new laws that will increase women's
participation in Parliament, the corporate management system and in other
strategic areas. This way, she argues, women's voices can be heard at the
highest levels.

Meanwhile, women activists are finding some comfort that at least the new
government report includes women's issues that used to be ignored --
domestic violence, stalking and sexual harassment.

But the findings themselves only show how much more needs to be done
regarding women's concerns.

Incidents of sexual abuse against women between 13 to 19 years old, for
example, have risen, according to the report. In 1998, there were 1,549
cases recorded, double the figure in 1978.

The report, however, also observes that the high number of inquiries (more
than 7,000) from female workers seeking advice about sexual harassment in
1998 reflects increased awareness among women about their rights.

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

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