In what will be a short series of articles on the Gender Divide in Japan, I decided to start with the difficulties faced by women in Japan, specifically in regards to the workplace.
Now, I wouldn’t classify Japan as a “sexist country” per se. However, there is a massive gender divide here, and this division between the sexes can, and sometimes does, breed serious sexist attitudes, especially amongst more conservative people.
In a news story that broke a few days ago, it was shown that a member of the Tokyo city assembly was subjected to sexist heckling when trying to debate the topic of social support for child-rearing women.
Ayaka Shiomura, a 35-year old member of the opposition party “Your Party”, was subjected to heckling from members of the conservative and nationalist LDP. The Liberal Democratic Party is Japan’s ruling political party, and members were reported to have shouted things like “Why don’t you get married?” or “Are you unable to have a baby” at Shiomura.
The city assembly has 127 members, of whom a mere 25 are women, furthermore, in the National Assembly there are 722 members, of whom just 78 are women. Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has pledged to increase the numbers of female participants in politics to 30% by 2020, but seeing as it is his party which seems to be part of the problem, it is unknown if he will be able to make good on this promise.
In Japan, 70% of women quit their job after having their first child. The problem of forcing women out of jobs when they have children, or get too old, is visible in all levels of Japanese society, from members of the political class to humble office workers.
Indeed, many offices in Japan have an office lady, or shokuba no hana (flower girl). These flower girls are kept in the office to perform menial tasks like copying reports or serving tea. Like the flowers they are named after, the women are expected, and indeed encouraged, to retire in their late twenties. The Japanese believe that a person should get married by the age of 30, and a married office lady is a bad thing in Japan, with many being praised for the youth and liveliness they bring to the office.
There is a joke in Japan, that women are like Christmas cakes, since after the 25th, nobody wants them anymore, unfortunately for the office ladies, they fall into this category.
Even women who are not in the employment pool find it difficult to receive support, especially in the city of Osaka. The Osaka Welfare Bureau has been investigated for insensitivity and sexual harassment after complaints were made against staff there.
One woman, after being refused five times, was told to try to get a job at a “soapland” (a “massage” parlor which is, in reality, a brothel). Other people who were recovering from cancer treatments or other medical issues sought assistance at the bureau, but found their applications for assistance rejected, and instead received the advice to just “get a job”, along with a booklet of job-hunting tips. Luckily, there is an investigation in progress to examine how to lessen the restrictions on support services.
I’ll close with some cold hard figures about gender inequality in Japan, from the 2013 Global Gender Gap Report. The report assesses countries around the world for gender equality and ranks them on a scale of 1-4, with 1 being “most equal” and 4 being “least equal”.
Japan was ranked 3 in education, 4 in economic participation, 4 in political empowerment, and 4 in “overall gap”. All this means that Prime Minister Abe has a tough road ahead of him.
Next, I’ll talk about the issues that the gender divide causes for men, and later, how closing the gender gap can benefit Japan, but before that, I think this blog needs another fun post…