Saturday, April 07, 2007

Women's rights in Japan

Many westerners seem to think that women in Japan are discriminated against. When my wife and I went on a trip to Ireland for our honeymoon, my wife had just quit her work. Some Irish people heard that and thought my wife had been forced to quit her job by her company as sexual discrimination although my wife had quit her job on her own will. Some other westerners point out the labor force participation rate (labor force population / population over fifteen years old) of Japanese women is low; Japan: 48.2%, the USA: 60.2% and Sweden: 75.5%. They say Japanese women are forced to be housewives against their will.

Certainly, you can sometimes see examples that women are located in status lower than men in Japan. For instance, in a train, a couple is standing, and there is only one empty seat. If a couple is over seventy years old, a wife gives the seat to her husband and he sits down there taking it for granted. In January 2007, Japanese Minister for Work and Pension said, "Women are machines to produce children." and he seems to not be obliged to resign from the Cabinet even for his stupid words. A few years ago, the Tokyo governor said, "It's both wasteful and sinful for women to live beyond menopause... such useless human beings are extremely harmful to the whole planet" He was sued for these words, but still works as the governor.

However, the Japanese man's school of thought regarding women rights depends on their generation. All the shamed people described above are over seventy years old. In my opinion, some of them still look down on women (Of course, many men over seventy have a proper mind of equality regarding human rights, but unfortunately, some men don't.)

How about younger generations? I have talked with some families who lived at the same company dormitory house my wife and I lived at 6 years ago. There were two couples who were nearly 50 years old at the time, a couple and my wife and I were 28 and 30 years old. We talked about taking garbage out in the morning. Couples of 30 years old think that it is a work for men or women, both are OK. If a husband goes out of the house first, he should take garbage out. If a wife goes out first, she should take. I take it for granted. But wives in their 50s didn't think so. They said, "If our husbands take the garbage out, we are considered bad wives, because such chores belonged to housewives. So we should take the garbage out in spite of husbands going out of the houses first." We, couples in their 30s, were astonished to hear that. We just don't have such a thought.

Like this, there is a big generation gap in thinking about women's rights, but it is getting better, I think. In my childhood, I have heard many words of disdain for women from people of my parents generation. I never have heard such words from my friends of the same generation. We are in the last generation that high school curriculums are different between girls and boys (Girls had to complete domestic science, but boys didn't have to.). Since 1994, boys also have to complete domestic science. Many people are disagreeably surprised at and angrily at ashamed politicians who say words against women's rights now.

As above, in my opinion, Japanese people's school of thought regarding sexual equality is getting better, although behind western countries. The question then is why do Japanese women tend to be housewives and not like their western counterparts?

I asked a friend of mine who is a housewife whether she and her housewife friends (about 10 ladies) wanted to be housewives or were forced to be. Her answer was all of them wanted to be housewives.

Her reasoning for this was as follows: 1. Their husbands can earn enough money to survive without partners' earnings. 2. The works they did was simple - not challenging, so they couldn't find a proper reason to continue with their works. 3. They feel the time they spend with their children is precious.

Do Japanese companies really give challenging work to women employees? In my opinion, some companies do so, but nowadays, most companies make some layers of employee's responsibility depending on their status, not on gender. Proper employees are in charge of works of heavy responsibility and decision making, temporary employees are given not so challenging work. This system has become popular in the middle of 90s in Japan. (Before that, many companies in Japan set employee's responsibility depending on their gender.)

However, even in the environment that companies give challenging work to women employees, we can still see many examples of women employees quitting their jobs when they get married. For instance, the company I work for used to be a government corporation (means there are little gender discriminations since the era of older Japanese companies), there are many administrative women. Thus, it seems that the company has a better working system for women, but in reality, many women employees quit the company when they get married. Women employees who started a job at the same time and same area of me were ten, all of them got married, and only three ladies still work for the company, maybe seven of them are housewives.

Why do many women employees quit their jobs when they get married? Maybe the first reason is their working time and men's ability to do the housework and cooking. Japanese company employees tend to work overtime (For example, I take 200 to 300 overtime hours in a year, but it is not so much among my friends who work for other companies). In addition to this, many Japanese men cannot cook well. So women in Japan who are married and work bear a heavy burden. If she and her husband have a small child or children without help from their parents, that burden becomes heavier. Of course, in Japan, there are many child-care centers but not enough and some parents think that they should take care of small children by themselves or by help from their parents for good growth of their children. (Maybe for that, the babysitter system is very rare in Japan. At least, all my family, friends and co-workers never used that system.)

How about the companies' side? Do they appreciate women's abilities appropriately? An article about that appeared in April 1st 2007 issue of The Nikkei (Japanese newspaper). It said that big companies are preparing a system to hire and keep excellent women employees. For example, Nissan plans to raise the proportion of women administrators from 3% of all administrators to 5% by 2008. Toshiba is preparing a system that women who retired from raising children can be rehabilitated. These systems might be behind western countries, but I appreciate these trials of Japanese companies.

On the other hand, Japanese housewives can receive their pension even though they don't pay a pension fee. They can say that Japanese housewives are accorded precedence for economical respect.

I think these are the main reasons that women employees tend to quit their jobs when they get married.

To conclude, Japanese women were discriminated against, but now it is getting better (depending on the generation). Meanwhile, for the economical respect, work problem, and child care system, many women selected to be housewives.

I enjoy the fact that women and men can select their own lives without fool discriminations, conventions and social problem. Therefore, my first thing to do... seems to learn how to cook.

P.S. My feeling about gender discrimination is one in an urban area. In Japanese rural areas, there may still remain discriminations, unfortunately.