Why Japan Needs a Women’s March More Than Ever

ABOUT THE AUTHOR / Rhea Endo is a student of Gender Studies world at the International Christian University, Tokyo. She is one of the founding members of Voice Up Japan ICU.

Since its inception three years ago, the Women’s March has served as an annual platform for everyone to voice up and walk together in unity for female empowerment, to be seen and heard. Tokyo’s incarnation of this protest march – originally started in the U.S. and now held globally with chapters across 100-plus cities – has become a symbol of solidarity and defiance against the various injustices prevalent in the Japanese society. With International Women’s Day fast approaching, let’s recap the brief history of how this collective action for “woman’s human rights” came to be.

*This year’s Women’s March was scheduled to take place on March 8, to coincide with International Women’s Day. However, Tokyo organizers have decided to postpone the event for a later date due to the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Check their social media page for updates about further information.

How and when did the Women’s March start?

The first-ever international Women’s March was held a day after Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th president of the United States, on January 21, 2017 – also the year the #MeToo movement was ignited. An estimated 500,000 marchers, many donning symbolic pink hats, frocked to Washington D.C., far exceeding initial expectations. Participants called for women’s rights and denounced the new U.S. administration elected on a populist right-wing agenda hostile to women, immigrants, and other minority groups. With millions more taking to the streets in every state and across the globe – including Antarctica – it went down in history as the biggest single-day mass protest in U.S. history.

Because of Japan’s time zone, the 2017 Women’s March Tokyo was the first official sister march to take place outside the U.S., kicking off what would grow into a worldwide resistance against Trump’s presidency. It was organized by Erica Summers, an American visiting Tokyo for six days, who initially created the event on Facebook. With Democrats Abroad Japan drumming up support – an organization for Democrats living in Japan – the march was carried out successfully on the night of January 20. Protesters made their way through central Tokyo, chanting slogans and holding up placards from Hibiya Park to Roppongi. Despite the cold, over 600 people joined the ad hoc demonstration, the majority of whom were foreign nationals who couldn’t travel to the U.S. capital for the Women’s March held the following day.

Tokyo organizers have since held the march on International Women’s Day (March 8) every year, attracting a steady number of supporters and participants to their cause. Though the Women’s March Tokyo Organizing Committee has opted to postpone this year’s event due to the coronavirus outbreak, they made an announcement on their Facebook post last Tuesday, assuring that “updates will be made on the Women’s March website and social media, as soon as the renewed date is set.”

Should each of us take part in the Women’s March?

In Japan, gender issues and violation of women’s rights have for so long remained invisible to the public eye – a long list of which includes sexual harassment and abuse, domestic violence, the gender pay gap, unequal housework, trans exclusion, among others. In recent years, even instances of restricting the number of female admissions to medical universities have been reported. This culture of impunity has not been sufficiently scrutinized in a society that tends to silence women and girls.

“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller,” as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes in her influential book, We Should All Be Feminists. Women have been told to close their legs and be small from a young age, to be deferential and be aware of “one’s place.”

The Women’s March is a call for action and an opportunity for everyone – the activists, the housewives, the LGBTQ community, the faces behind Instagram posts – to send an unambiguous message that women and their allies of all stripes will not be silenced and are ready to fight for their rightful place in society. And, yes, demonstrating does matter because taking to the streets is a physical manifestation of being loud and clear about the very rights that we stand for.

In a country that consistently ranks near the bottom of the Gender Gap Index – Japan is placed 121st out of 153 countries surveyed in the most recent report – continuing to campaign and clamor for gender equality and social change – in the workplace, in relationships, and in the corridors of power – is an urgent and paramount task for activists and citizens alike who all have a stake in democracy.