Japan’s Battle Against Sexism

Source: The New York Times

Yoshiro Mori resigned from his position as the Japanese Olympic Chief on 12th February 2021 in light of his sexist remarks which galvanized both local and global outrage. At a special meeting of the Olympic committee in Tokyo, he acknowledged that his remarks, to the effect that women's speaking time at Japanese Olympic Committee meetings should be limited because they talk too much, were inappropriate and had caused much chaos. At the forefront of this chaos and outrage was Momoko Nojo’s online campaign titled #Don’tBeSilent, which garnered over 150,000 signatures and made headlines across the world. Along with being greatly successful in its primary aim, the campaign also drew much-needed attention to Japan’s growing gender inequality problem.

The country is currently ranked 121st out of 153 on the World Economic Forum's 2020 Global Gender Gap Index which is the worst ranking among all developed countries. Its rigid hold on ancient gender norms- wherein women are expected to tend to the home and the men to the world- further complicate the matter by greatly limiting women’s economic and political participation. As per a recent survey, only 10.2% of the Japanese House of Representatives’ lawmakers are female- a number that leaves it far behind its fellow G7 nations. Further, in the corporate world, only a tenth of management positions are held by women. They mostly work in “office type” roles such as clerks or secretaries with no real power. The gender pay gap, too, is more alive than ever, with women earning 40% less than the average man. Women who get married are expected to become traditional housewives and look after the husband. The few who return to work after marriage, often face mental harassment as they are considered abandoning their primary roles as caregivers. The Civil Code of Japan also mandates that married persons share a last name. While this law is gender-neutral, meaning either husband or wife can take up the other’s last name, 95% of women continue to adopt their husband’s name as per social convention.

The prospects of rape and abuse survivors in Japan are disconcertingly grim. According to Government statistics, more than 95 percent of sexual violence incidents are not reported to the police, partly because discussing rape is seen as “embarrassing” in Japan and also because many victims feel that reporting would make no difference. Stigma against domestic violence also continues to persist as the outburst of a male is seen as a shame upon the woman, indicating that she has failed her duty as a housewife. Other crimes against women, including stalking, are rising in Japan at a faster rate than any other country and its sex trafficking laws have come under heavy criticism as of late as minors continue to be exploited openly on the streets of Tokyo.

Returning to the arena of sports, the situation is equally harrowing. Women are deprived of leadership positions in sports federations and kept out of decision-making roles. The sexual and physical abuse of girls in sports is rampant as well and things have scarcely improved since the Human Rights Watch report on the issue. In the light of the global #MeToo movement, several female athletes accused coaches and staff members of harassment but authorities were reluctant to bring about any solid changes. In a particular instance, 4-time gold medalist Kaori Icho had to persistently fight the Japan Wrestling federation to get her coach who harassed her out of the sport.

In the wake of Yoshiro Mori’s resignation, Seiko Hashimoto, who competed in seven Summer and Winter Olympics as a cyclist and a skater has been appointed as the New Olympic Chief. Her ascendance to the position has been greatly welcomed by Japanese feminists as a great show of female power, however, it does little for structural inequalities within Japan's institutions. The law, as well as prevalent social conventions, continue to be huge obstacles in Japan’s battle against growing gender inequality and sexism. The male-dominated institutions have so far only shown performative concern regarding the issue and public consciousness is yet to be mobilized. Despite this failure on behalf of public office holders, women’s organizations in Japan continue to push for a better and more secure country for all minorities including the LGBTQ community through online rallying and grassroots awareness programs.

-Soumya Sharma

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