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Published:May 14th, 2010 11:01 EST
Legal and Institutional Framework in Japan

Legal and Institutional Framework in Japan

By SOP newswire2

By Dr Yoriko Meguro  

[Excerpted from `Toward Better Outcomes: Japan`s Gender Policies` in `Power, Voice and Rights: A Turning Point for Gender Equality in Asia and the Pacific, 2010 (UNDP/Macmillan).] 

Tokyo (Women`s Feature Service) " Whatever the form and wherever it may take place, gender inequality cuts across all countries, regardless of the level of economic development. It is a critical concern for all from the standpoints of human rights and human security, and Japan is no exception. 

Legal and institutional framework. The present Constitution, enacted in 1946, liberated Japanese women from the pre-World War II patriarchal institution. Two major institutional landmarks in Japan`s quest for gender equality are ratification of the CEDAW in 1985 and the enactment of the Basic Law for Gender Equal Society in 1999. In addition to these, the country has also taken legal measures to mitigate domestic violence and facilitate parental leave, for example. Revisions have been made in existing laws, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Law and the Act on Improvement of Employment Management for Part-Time Workers, with a stronger encouragement for the private sector to eliminate gender discrimination. As one of the so-called top recipients of trafficked women, the Japanese Government has taken steps to cope with this trans-border gender issue in 2004. In the following year, the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, a protocol to the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, was ratified. 

The Gender Equality Office was upgraded to the Gender Equality Bureau in the Cabinet Office in 2000, serving as Japan`s national machinery and institutional mechanism for the promotion of gender equality. To implement the Basic Law for Gender Equal Society, the Bureau formulates a Plan of Action every five years to be approved by the Cabinet. In accordance with the Basic Law, 22 per cent of Prefectures (provinces) adopted their own ordinance and 57 per cent of the local government authorities have adopted action plans to promote gender equality. 95 per cent of all Prefectures have public centres for women or for gender equality. Furthermore, the government has established a system that provides services to victims of domestic violence and gender discrimination at the workplace. 

Achievements and challenges. Japan has been an active member of the UN Commission on the Status of Women and an eager participant in the past four World Women`s Conferences and the Special Session of the General Assembly: Women 2000. The documents from these meetings have been instrumental in shaping Japan`s policies for promoting gender equality. The mandatory nature of national reporting to the CEDAW Committee has kept the government and NGOs sensitized to the progress made and the challenges that remain. 

It is fair to say that Japan has made a considerable advancement in building the legal and institutional frameworks for promoting gender equality prior to the turn of the century. The Gender Equality Bureau, however, has expressed its concerns over Japan`s Gender Empowerment Measure ranking by UNDP, Japan being 58th among 108 countries in 2008, while it was the 8th on HDI (out of 179) and the 12th (out of 157) on GDI scales. What is there to bring such a large gap between HDI and GEM? It is now clear that economic development is not necessarily a precondition for gender equality. Interestingly Japan`s ranking on GEM shows a downward trend since 2001, but its values have slightly increased. This means that those countries which made statistical data available for GEM calculation in the past decade had higher values than Japan. Although women`s full access to education has long been achieved, particularly on the primary and the secondary levels, higher education has not generally prepared women to enter career tracks and professional paths. The Japanese Government admits that the pace of advancement towards gender equality by the international standard has been slow and that latecomers advanced faster in a short period of time. 

Japan`s ranking on the Gender Gap Index (developed by the World Economic Forum) is 98th among 130 countries in 2008. Critical variables used in both GEM and GGI are extremely low for Japan in comparison with many other countries. These are as follows: 1) the estimated earned income; 2) the ratio of female professional and technical workers, legislators, senior officials and managers; and 3) women in parliament and in ministerial positions. Japan obviously lags greatly behind other countries despite the impression that women`s visibility in society has increased over the years. 

What are the reasons for continued gender gaps in economics and politics? The main reason for gender gap in the labour force participation is the disrupted work career of women owing to childcare. Surveys on the pattern of women`s labour force participation have shown a continued trend of the so-called M-shaped curve, indicating a distinct drop in women`s labour force participation among those in the child-rearing age brackets. The number one reason for women disrupting their careers and leaving the work is `childcare`. Despite the high rate of women workers using their legal rights to take the parental leave, particularly in the private sector, many of them do not or cannot return to the same job they left behind because of the work conditions and the corporate culture, but also the shortage of support for childcare. It is hard for women with small children to get husband`s support partly because some men and their parents still believe that mothers are responsible for childcare, and partly because of long work hours particularly of men who are in the life stage of parenting small children. Even if the young fathers are willing to share the childcare responsibility, they have little time to spend at home. Therefore, women who wish to continue the work career may reluctantly avoid the risk of having more than one child, if any. Those who have a choice of continuing their work and going up the ladder for higher positions are single or childless or are regular employees who are able to find resources for childcare. This is possibly one reason why women make up only 10 per cent of those in managerial positions today. Income is related to the duration of work career and the position at work. Underlining these facts is the strong gender norm defining men as breadwinner/producer and women as housewife/caregiver. 

Only 11 per cent of seats in Parliament (the Lower House of the Diet) are held by women in 2008. The culture of political parties, the electoral system, the perception of the voters, and limited resources - including a lack of training accessible by women to run for public offices - all contribute to the low participation of women in public decision-making. 

[Dr. Yoriko Meguro specialises in gender studies and sociology, and is Professor Emeritus of Sophia University, Tokyo. She serves as the Japanese Representative to the UN Commission on the Status of Women. 

Excerpted from `Toward Better Outcomes: Japan`s Gender Policies`, in `Power, Voice and Rights: A Turning Point for Gender Equality in Asia and the Pacific, 2010 (UNDP/Macmillan).] 

(©  Women`s Feature Service)