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The issue of human rights for women covers not only their legal rights but also their cultural and social rights. The elimination of discrimination in religion and social custom is also vital.
(1) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
The Committee on the Elimination of the Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has been making strenuous efforts to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Women's Convention) since its establishment in 1982.
The Japanese government said in its Response to the Questionnaire to Government on Implementation for the Beijing Platform for Action that they held meetings to report on the deliberations of every session of the CEDAW. However, only a limited number of NGOs are invited to such meetings and the reports usually only outline the sessions without providing much detail. Furthermore, the government has not translated CEDAW's concluding comments on the Japanese government's reports into Japanese in order to publicize them. In addition, Japanese-language leaflets and posters on the Convention prepared and distributed by the government did not contribute to publicizing the Convention by failing to capture the attention of the general public. Public opinion surveys conducted by the Office of Gender Equality of the Prime Minister's Office even show a decline in the awareness of the Women's Convention by Japanese people from 39.9% in 1992 to 27.8% in 1995. Therefore, it is necessary to make further efforts to publicize the Convention across the country.
The Japanese Association of International Women's Rights (JAIWR), a Japanese women's NGO studying and publicizing the Women's Convention, developed various programs to publicize the Convention in Japan. Their programs are based on an easy-to-learn approach that includes a theater featuring over-sized picture-cards, comic talk shows, and a "gender check" (a questionnaire to check one's gender bias). Since 1996, the JAIWR has held such programs "on delivery " throughout the country.
In addition to the Women's Convention, other international human rights treaties related to the rights of women and girls, such as the International Covenants on Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, should be promoted through school and social education to raise people's awareness. The Japanese government has not translated and publicized the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee. The recommendations' intentions should be fully understood and thoroughly considered by the government in partnership with NGOs in order to promote efforts to solve human rights issues. Furthermore, the Japanese government should immediately ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights based on the individual communication procedure.
The optional protocol to the Women's Convention is expected to be adopted by the UN General Assembly. The Japanese government should ratify the protocol and actively publicize its individual communication procedure. In order to do so, the government should change its hands-off attitude towards the protocol as soon as possible. Also, Japanese judges are requested to stop ignoring international human rights treaties which Japan has ratified, such as the Women's Convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
(2) ILO Conventions and Other Instruments
ILO Conventions are as important as the above mentioned international human rights treaties in securing the right to work for women. However, Japan has ratified only 42 out of 181 ILO Conventions. Although the Equal Employment Opportunity Law and the Labor Standards Law have been revised, they only apply to regular employees. Non-regular and part-time workers including temporary work service staff are not covered by such laws and left with poor working conditions. Among the ILO Conventions ratified by Japan, Convention No.100 on the principle of the equal pay for work of equal value is the most problematic. The government needs to make more active efforts to promote ILO Conventions. The Japanese government stated, in The Fourth Report on the Implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (submitted in July 1998), that the average ratio of women's wage to the men's was 63.1 to 100. However, this figure does not include non-regular workers in its calculations and therefore does not reflect reality because more women are working in non-regular employment these days. Moreover, the government did not respond to the survey "Lower average wage for women" on the wage differences between men and women published in 'Gender' and Human Development (Human Development Report 1995, UNDP). According to "Women are more likely to work in low-paid employment: Percentage of workers who are low paid, 1993-1995," in Poverty and Human Development (Human Development Report 1997) Japanese men are ranked in the second lowest category, above Sweden, while Japanese women are ranked number one among the five countries surveyed.
Under these circumstances enhancing the legal aid system to provide financial support for law suits is strongly requested so that women, especially underprivileged women, can bring their cases to court when their rights are violated.
(3) Domestic Law
Paragraph 50 of the Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies requires the abolition and amendment of domestic laws that discriminate against women. However, no such action has been taken in Japan. Revision of the Civil Law is an especially urgent issue. Because Article 750 of Japan's Civil Law requires a married couple to have the same surname 98% of married couples use the husband's surname. That provision should be revised so that couples can choose to have separate surnames if they wish. There is also a provision regarding inheritance that discriminates against children born out of wedlock. This provision needs to be revised so that these children can also inherit. Divorce provisions need to be reformed to ensure living expenses for a divorced woman until she establishes a new life and can find employment. Fair distribution of property on divorce and a system to ensure child support is actually paid also need to be provided for by the law. Even though fathers agree to pay child-support, in 1993 only 14.9% of divorced fathers paid their dues. This is also a serious problem in the cases of international marriage involving Japanese men and non-Japanese women.
Japanese law and its application should reflect the provisions of international human rights treaties such as the Women's Convention, the International Covenants on Human Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as other international human rights documents such as the Nairobi Forward-looking Strategies and the Beijing Platform for Action. In addition, due to Japan's lengthy trial periods, alternative systems of redress that allow for quick responses should be established to protect women's human rights. The government and NGOs need to cooperate to conduct studies on an appropriate system of redress for women.
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From April 2000 the Long-term Care Insurance System targetting Japanese elderly will be implemented. Health and welfare programs for the elderly in Japan consist of at-home programs and institutional programs. In Japan, the elderly are typically cared by family members at home. Although men are increasingly taking the role of family caregivers, women still constitute more than 85% of such caregivers. Women also comprise a majority of home helpers, i.e., non-medically trained caregivers who visit the homes of the elderly to help them with feeding, bathing, and other necessary cares. The pay for these caregivers is quite low. As women's average life span is longer than that of men, protecting the human rights of the elderly is equivalent to protecting the human rights of women. However, a number of issues are outstanding regarding the implementation of the Long-term Care Insurance System. These include measures to prevent elderly from dying alone and stopping family caregivers exhausted by the burden of prolonged care from abusing the elderly. In addition, we need to find ways to support elderly people who are not covered by insurance and to protect home helpers from sexual violence at the homes they visit which are hidden from public view. It is urgent to improve the services and prevent the further decrease in the quality and the quantity of care given to disabled elderly women. The Long-term Care Insurance System will be implemented without sufficient discussion on these issues. Since each local government will be given the responsibility to actually carry out the new system, participation by local residents, especially women, and sufficient communication among the state, the local government, and residents is indispensable for the successful implementation of the system.
1999 is the International Year of Older Persons so designated to promote the independence, participation, care, self-fulfillment, and dignity of the elderly in order to ensure their human rights. Comprehensive measures, including a measure to secure housing for single elderly women, are indispensable for realizing independence for the elderly, especially elderly women.
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In order to make measures for women with disabilities satisfactory, gender-sensitive standpoints need to be introduced in the policies for people with disabilities. The Eugenic Protection Law, which discriminated against people with disabilities and congenital genetic diseases, was converted to the Maternal Protection Law in 1996. However, the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare has not agreed to compensate for the "compulsory sterilization" on women with disabilities carried out under the Eugenic Protection Law, arguing that it was legal before the law's revision. Furthermore, removal of normal uteri from women residents in facilities for the disabled was also performed under this law because it was deemed too difficult to manage the women's menstrual care.
The necessity of compensation for "compulsory sterilization" was also pointed out in a recommendation made by the UN Human Rights Committee in 1998. In 1999, under the leadership of NGOs for the disabled, hotlines for victims of "compulsory sterilization" were established nationwide to research the extent of the problem. The Japanese government should provide relief for these victims regardless of the statute of limitations and the denial of retroaction provided by the Japanese legal system.
In addition, measures for women with disabilities, especially for those with mental disorders or intellectual challenges, should be pursued more actively. In facilities for those women, use of male caregivers and incidents of sexual violence should be eliminated.
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The first of the issues concerning foreign women living in Japan is the problem of women brought to Japan without proper visas and made to work in the sex industry. The second is the issue of foreign women who are brought to Japan by international marriage-arrangement agents to marry Japanese men who have difficulties finding "brides" in rural areas, as well as in cities. Such marriages are deemed to be trafficking in women because professional agents and money are involved. Arrangements are usually made through "mail-order" or on "marriage tours" in which Japanese men go abroad and are introduced to multiple local women. These foreign women may choose to marry Japanese men "for the sake of food." However, in such international marriages, foreign women are often under great mental and physical stresses due to cultural gaps, language barriers and differences of climate, especially the cold weather. Divorce is common. In the case of Filipina women married to Japanese men, almost 85% divorce. When a foreign woman married to a Japanese man divorces within 5 years' of her stay in Japan, she loses her residence status and is often left in an extremely vulnerable situation that causes problems in claiming child maintenance as well as sending her children to school. A comprehensive support system for these foreign women living in Japan should be established.
In order to ratify the Women's Convention, the Japanese government amended the Nationality Law and adopted the "principle of bilineal descent" instead of the "principle of patrilineal descent" regarding the nationality of children born in legal international marriages. However, the revision did not include unions not legally registered. Therefore, when a child's father is Japanese and the mother is a foreigner, but they are not legally married, the child cannot acquire Japanese nationality even if the father recognizes the child as his own after the child is born. Rather, the father has to recognize the unborn child as his own in order for the child to acquire Japanese nationality. However, when the couple is not legally married, for a foreign woman in a vulnerable situation, it is very difficult to have the concerned Japanese man recognize the fetus as his own and to take the necessary procedures before the baby is actually born. Such impracticality and unfairness are partly caused by the fact that the Nationality Law was originally made in 1900. The problem of nationality not only concerns foreign women and their children living in Japan but also arises outside Japan in such forms as "Japino children" (i.e., children whose mothers are Filipina in the Philippines but whose fathers are Japanese, often living in Japan).
Early ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families by Japan is also desired.
There is also ingrained discrimination against Korean-Japanese women in Japan. It is necessary for Japanese to have more knowledge of the laws concerning foreigners, including the Nationality Law, the Alien Registration Act, and the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act and their problems.
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There still remains the issue of discrimination against Ainu, i.e. indigenous people in northern Japan, and Burakumin, i.e. people with origin of the lowest class in society. Women who belong to these groups suffer double discrimination of being member of such groups and being women.
Although age discrimination is not well recognized by society, the Beijing Platform for Action points out that discrimination based on one's age is a form of discrimination. In Japan, age discrimination often occurs in recruiting and hiring, shutting doors for women of middle age and higher seeking for job. Society, as well as women themselves, believe that youth has more value, and as a result, such discrimination narrows women's option in the course of their lives. More consideration is required in order to protect the human rights of women who are criminal suspects, defendants, or victims as well as persons of different sexual orientation.
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As it is pointed out in documents on the UN Decade for Human Rights Education and the Beijing Platform for Action, human rights education is essential, in Japan, for judicial, administrative, and school education officials. This includes judges, public prosecutors, attorneys, instructors at the Legal Training and Research Institute, civil servants of Ministry of Justice and other governmental agencies, police officers, personnel working for prisons and detention facilities, school teachers at elementary, middle, and high schools, and university faculties. In order to promote awareness, especially for judges, public prosecutors, and private attorneys, human rights education must be incorporated in their training program at the Legal Training and Research Institute. Furthermore, international human rights law, including the Women's Convention needs to be taught, with adequate class time allocated.
Education and training programs on women's human rights for school education officials including civil servants at the Ministry of Education, local boards of education, teachers' unions, and teachers, and medical and welfare officials are also vital. It is essential to provide education on women's human rights, that is, gender-sensitive human rights education, to people working in these professional fields.
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Despite Japan's high literacy rate, its legal literacy still remains problematic, making Japan a "developing country" in terms of human rights. The government and NGOs must work together in order to strengthen their efforts to improve human rights in every field as well as to protect women's human rights.
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