Translation by Ayşe Haruka Açıkbaş.
According to the latest index published by the World Economic Forum last week, Japan is ranked 120th out of 156 countries. Among existing challenges, experts already confirm that the economic crisis, led by the pandemic of Covid-19, will hit women harder. Voice Up Japan is of course concerned.
Japan is not quite the place “where women shine”, as former Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, proclaimed. They’re Still Waiting. Female workers remain largely shut out of management jobs, from policy decisions making positions and many take part-time work because of overwhelming family responsibilities. Those same exact jobs have been put on hold since the breakdown of the Covid-19 pandemic, a year ago.
In Japan, “female unemployment rose by 20 million women in December 2020 year-over-year. This represents a 34.5% increase, whereas male unemployment rose by 31.8%; lost ground on the positive increase of 3 million more working women during the economic boom years of “Abenomics” (2013 to 2019), reminds Nobuko Kobayashi, Asia-Pacific Strategy Execution Leader, EY.
This year’s edition of the World Economic forum, released last week, predicts that it will take no less than 133 years to close the worldwide gender gap. The impact of the pandemic of Covid-19, in addition to the continuing challenges of gender parity in politics and economics, certainly did not help, adding 33.5 years to last year’s gap of 99.5 years, reminds Makiko Eda, chief representative office Japan, World economic forum Tokyo.
To make a change, she says, a “particular attention should be paid to the increase in women’s participation in the political and policy-making process and the promotion of positive action in the employment field. “
Voice Up Japan reacts and analyses this report.
What Rankings Don’t Tell
“Numbers don’t lie,” as they say. And for what it seems like the umpteenth year, Japan came near the bottom in the World Economic Forum’s annual gender gap report, despite being the third-largest economy in the world. According to the latest index just released last week, Japan is ranked 120th out of 156 countries — sandwiched between two African nations of Angola and Sierra Leone — in what amounts to be a damning indication of how far the country still needs to progress in terms of gender equality.
But numbers alone cannot reveal the full picture of the human cost. And a keen observer would point out that, from the perspective of gender, the past year marked the lowest ebb in recent memory for Japanese women: the WEF’s latest report came on the heels of an alarming spike in suicide among women in Japan — a demographic bearing the brunt of an economic downturn precipitated by the Covid-19 pandemic. About half of Japanese women hold unstable, part-time jobs, and according to NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, the number of women who took their own lives jumped to 7,026, “an increase of 935, or 15 percent” from 2019.
So what is to be done? The hypothetical prospect of a more equal and balanced Japanese society may never actualize if we wait complacently for an opportune time. So it is up to each and every one of us to fight for a future that we envision for ourselves.
Japan—when one step forward means nothing in regards to gender equality
This year, Japan ranked 120th out of 156 countries, a single step higher to last year’s 121st place among 153. 2020 was a year that brought pain and fear in all of us, yet women still overwhelmingly suffered the brunt of it: women were four times more likely than men to lose their jobs, women’s suicide rates increased almost 83%, and the country’s own admission of defeat when it comes to closing the gender gap by elevating women in position of power both in government and in the corporate world. This result also comes shortly after ex-Tokyo 2020 chief Yoshiro Mori’s statement of women being “annoying” and “talking too much during meetings,” which made international headlines and forced him to resign. To make things worse, our Gender-equality Minister, Tamayo Marukawa, opposes spouses maintaining their surname after marriage, an issue that primarily affects women. That Japan ranks lowest among major advanced companies surprises no one who has been paying attention.
Women should not have to fight tooth and nail to co-exist with their male peers, a battle that is only exponentially harder when Japan’s systemic racism, homophobia, transmisia, ableism, ageism, and other biases and discriminations are counted.
When talks about Japan’s Constitution are gaining traction, it’s important to remember that Article 14 provides that “all of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin,” and yet the whole system crumbles and fails catastrophically to elevate half of its population on principle. The sheer hypocrisy of the foundation of this country is so blatant, women keep screaming even after we’ve lost our voices.
When will Japan stop postponing issues of gender equality and equity? When will Japan stop looking away and instead acknowledge the shamefulness and embarrassment of being such a sexist country that it won’t even cross the double-digit mark? For a country so keen on wowing the world with its perseverance to host the 2020 Olympics, it’s instead horrifying everyone with headline after headline of sexist scandals.
There is indeed a cognitive dissonance when it comes to Japan’s outside image (tatemae) and its inner face (honne), and Japan needs to realize that the wall has crumbled a hundred times over.
Thanks to globalization and the Internet, Japan is no longer a mystical land of loyalty and self-sacrifice, but its bleak reality has bled through social media and wall-breaking journalists.
And if there is one thing systemic oppression cannot beat, is resistance. Japan is waking up, voicing up, and still fighting—and it might be an uphill battle, but we are nothing if not resilient and tireless. Organizations such as Voice Up Japan, Marriage for All, Zenkoku Chinjyo Action, and movements like #nandenaino, #kutoo, we all made it through 2020, and we will not stop until our voices are heard and our existence as human beings is celebrated.
What about Education and Health?
We are no strangers to Japan’s ranking when it comes to the Global Gender Gap Report especially with the political empowerment and economic participation’s ranking. But, for educational attainment and, health and survival criteria Japan seems to be really high. Through my experiences (as someone who is coming from a developing country and living in Japan) I had some odd experiences regarding education and health. So, I would like to take the attention from political empowerment and economic participation for a second and shed a light on education and health.
On my first days in my university, I was really puzzled because you can visibly see the gender inequality by simply not being able to see female students on the campus. Or in my Gender Studies class when one of the students asked, “Do you think that your parents would still let you go to this university if you had a brother?” and many said no. The parents would rather spend their capital to their boy. OECD’s report in 2017 also states that Japan has the lowest rate of female bachelor graduates and lowest STEM graduates.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report has been criticized by many. I have heard arguments that suggested that Japan is not that gender unequal and the report does not show the reality. As I have been researching sexual reproductive health rights (SRHR) in Japan, it is true. The Global Gender Gap Report does not show the reality because it does not include SRHR as criteria thoroughly, even though it is essential to understand gender equality.
If the criteria included SRHR thoroughly then the report had to evaluate the fact that abortion is criminalized in Japan, the gynecologists are understaffed and not disperse enough (according to the WHO), the variety of the contraception methods are either inaccessible because of their cost (usually starts from 100USD) or they simply are not available in Japan and the STDs are on the rise especially syphilis.
The pandemics can usually show the inequalities in health care systems. After the COVID-19 Pandemic, we have also seen a doubling of pregnancy consultation by underaged girls. As there are more unintended pregnancies, we can see that there is a gendered inequality in the health care system that is more visible now in Japan. So, the report can give us numbers and rankings, but we can go a little further and show the inequalities that are not translated into rankings.
How about women’s place in politics?
The last time Japan was ranked in top 100 countries in the World Economic Forum’s annual global gender gap report was in 2011. Since then its rank has deteriorated to a concerning 120 in the 2021 report.
The report this year highlights Japan’s poor levels of women participation in politics with only 9.9% parliamentarians and 10% ministers being women. Even with 72% of women being in the labour force, only 14.7% occupy senior roles. Women in Japan are twice more than their male counterparts in part-time roles. This clearly hints at lower job security for women which is exacerbated in crises such as COVID-19 pandemic. This also translates to lower average income for women across the country.
The recent comments from the former Olympic Organising Committee Chief Mori Yoshiro which led to public anger and a petition resulting in his resignation, only goes on to highlight the sorry state of affairs for women in all spheres. The ruling party LDP’s Secretary General Nikai Toshihiro stooped even further by suggesting that the party may allow female lawmakers to attend its executive meetings but only for ‘observing’.
Even with a handful of female lawmakers in Japan, members like Sugita Mio echo similarly misogynistic views in the public sphere. It only goes on to highlight the ever-the-more necessity for more women to stand up and stand with each other.
There is a stark difference in the general public opinion and the comments from those who are in the echelons of public administration in Japan. With young activists taking centre stage and mounting global pressure, there is hope that people can push the lawmakers to make sweeping reforms for ensuring gender equality. It is necessary to spread socio-political awareness among the younger Japanese right through high schools and universities who can vote in larger numbers to shift the status quo. Reservation for women lawmakers in the diet can also force parties to choose more female candidates. Gender-blind evaluation of candidates being considered for promotion or executive positions can also act to include more women in administrative roles. Companies should actively try to conduct regular workshops for employees and decision makers in association with several women and minority support groups. This will keep everyone aware of the larger social challenges and push them to make progressive decisions.
Countries are expected to lead by examples. For an economic powerhouse like Japan which influences global politics, it shares higher responsibility to lead in reducing the gender gap. It can then act to influence others for creating a more equitable society. Legislations only cannot reduce gender gap. There is a necessity for active public discourse with a tolerant space for dissent to further the goal. Only when people can be brought into confidence that their views matter, Japan can affect a radical change. With gender gap closed in Japan for primary education, it is time we extend it to all stages and spheres of life.
“I wouldn’t be able to witness a gender-equal world, a gender-equal Japan”
“165.1 years in East Asia to potentially close gender gap.” When I saw this written on this year’s gender gap report, I was devastated, almost making me lose the energy to keep fighting for gender equality because I realized that if we go at this pace, I wouldn’t be able to witness a gender-equal world, a gender-equal Japan before I die. But we do have the keys, we do know what we have to do to get close to achieving gender equality. Therefore I hope to use my power and keep voicing up so that we can stop accepting and tolerating gender inequality in our country, and in this world.