Is Japan having a paradox? A developed nation with backgrounds gender situation?
Japan is often regarded as a developed and prosperous nation, but when it comes to gender equality, it lags behind many other countries. Japan ranked 120th out of 146 countries in the World Economic Forum’s gender gap ranking in 2022, remaining in last place among advanced economies. In comparison, Russia, which wasn't included in the 2022 poll but participated in 2021, came to 81st place.
Women in Japan face many challenges and struggles in various aspects of their lives, such as work, family, politics and society. Let's discuss some of the main issues that affect women in Japan and the possible solutions to address them.
In Japan, women often face a lack of equal opportunities and fair treatment in the workplace. Women, especially mothers, are discriminated when it comes to hiring, promotion, salary and various professional benefits. According to a government survey in 2020, only 15% of managerial positions were held by women. To put that into perspective, the government was targeting 30%.
Women also earn about 25% less than men, on average...One can argue that this data is due to women's "lighter focus" on career and preference for shorter work hours, however, on top of work, women are expected to shoulder most of the domestic and childcare responsibilities - which makes it difficult for them to balance their work and family lives.
Many women quit their jobs after marriage or childbirth, or opt for part-time or irregular work that offers less security and benefits. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation for women, as they have been more likely to lose their jobs or face increased workload and stress at home.
Women’s situation would greatly improve in the workplace if more active anti-discrimination policies would be enforced, there would be more support in providing accessible higher education and career development for women, the expansion of affordability of childcare options and stronger encouragement of taking parental leave for both men and women. Another very important task would be to promote a flexible and supportive work culture that respects the needs of women in general and mothers in particular.
Another painful challenge that women face in Japan is the pressure on traditional gender roles and old generations' expectations about how the family life in Japan should be. Women are often expected to have children soon after marriage and then devote themselves to their husbands and families. They are also subject to social stigma and discrimination if they choose to remain single, childless or divorced, which is a surprising fact, considering that despite the social pressure, the fertility rate in Japan is one of the lowest in the world - at just 1.36 children per woman.
Challenging the traditional gender norms and stereotypes that limit the roles and expectations of women, encouraging more participation of men in childcare and household chores, providing more recognition of women’s achievements outside the family and strengthening the legal and social protection for women who face violence or harassment would greatly improve women's personal and family life.
A third challenge that women face in Japan is the under-representation in politics. Women have little to no voice and influence in the decision-making processes that affect their lives and rights. Did you know that the minister in charge of women's empowerment and gender equality (appointed in August 2022) in Japan is a man? Yup, that's right. It doesn't mean that Mr.Masanobu Ogura isn't fulfilling his job properly, but just the fact that a man is in charge of women's empowerment feels quite ironic, doesn't it? According to a report by Inter-Parliamentary Union in 2021, only 10% of the members of the lower house of parliament were women, ranking 166th out of 190 countries. Women also held only two out of 20 ministerial positions in the cabinet. The low representation of women in politics is partly due to the male-dominated political culture that discourages or excludes women from entering or advancing in politics. It is also partly due to the lack of public support and awareness of the importance of gender diversity and equality in politics.
Some possible solutions to improve women’s situation in politics are:
• Introducing more measures to increase the number and proportion of women candidates and elected officials, such as quotas, subsidies or training programs.
• Creating more opportunities and platforms for women to express their opinions and concerns on political issues.
• Educating and mobilizing the public to support and vote for women candidates and leaders.
• Forming more alliances and networks among women politicians and activists across parties and sectors.
The fourth challenge that women face in Japan is the sexism and discrimination that pervade the society. Women are often objectified, stereotyped or harassed in various situations. For example, women are subjected to sexualized or derogatory comments, images or jokes in the media, entertainment or advertising. Women are also groped, stalked or assaulted in public places, such as trains, streets or schools. According to a government survey in 2018, about 70% of women had experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lives.
Furthermore, women tend to be discouraged from pursuing hobbies that are considered to be masculine or unconventional. For instance, women who like to play video games, watch anime or read manga are often labeled as otaku (geeks) or fujoshi (rotten girls) and face ridicule or rejection.
Women in Japan face many challenges and struggles in their work, family, politics and society. These challenges and struggles are rooted in the historical and cultural factors that have shaped the gender relations and roles in Japan. However, these factors are not immutable or inevitable. They can be changed and improved by the collective efforts and actions of individuals, groups and institutions. By addressing the challenges and struggles that women face in Japan, not only will the lives and rights of women be enhanced, but also the well-being and development of the whole society.
What are your thoughts? Have you ever faced discrimination in Japan or anywhere else in the world as a woman? Do comment below or join our discussions at the ProMaman Social Network for moms.