Friday, July 31, 2009

Gender Equality in Japan

"The U.N. watchdog panel on gender equality is poised to issue recommendations to Japan in which it will address this nation's delay in implementing policies to bring about equality between men and women.

"The government should humbly accept the findings of the expert U.N. panel known as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and lawmakers are urged to buckle down and begin implementing a wide range of gender equality measures.

"The pact that sets out the principles covering equality of the sexes--officially called the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women--was adopted by a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in 1979. Japan ratified the convention in 1985.

"Known as the women's rights version of the Bill of Rights, the convention stipulates the equality of women and men in political and public activities, calls for the prohibition of sexual exploitation of women and inequality in access to education and employment, as well as discrimination on the basis of sex in marital and family relations.

"Signatory countries to the convention, now numbering 186, are required to periodically undergo monitoring by CEDAW by submitting reports to the panel on measures taken to comply with their obligations under the treaty.

"CEDAW tracks the progress of parties to the treaty in rectifying inequalities and draws up recommendations to address shortcomings, prodding nations to take legislative and other remedial actions, including changing their social systems.

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"Japan severely criticized

"Last Thursday, CEDAW screened a report presented by the Japanese government at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

"The screening of Japan's records on elimination efforts of discrimination against women was the first in six years. Japan had previously been screened three times.

"CEDAW singled out various areas in which efforts by the Japanese government were considered to have fallen short of addressing problems linked to gender discrimination. Among them were a failure to conduct in-depth discussions on the need to revise the Civil Code--which leads to discriminatory treatment of children born outside of marriage in inheritance procedures--and a provision that stipulates married couples should have the same surname.

"The U.N. committee also took note of what it regards as Japan's retrogressive gender equality education and sex education, as well as a slow pace of improvement in women's social participation.

"The Japanese officials who replied to questioning at the CEDAW screening session were drawn from the Cabinet Office, the Justice Ministry and the Education, Science and Technology Ministry.

"Some of them were reportedly subject to such warnings from panel members as "not to repeat replies to the same effect" as those given by previous Japanese officials, or asked sternly to "provide explanations in more concrete terms."

"Yoko Osawa, a member of a Japanese nongovernmental body called mNet-Information Network for Amending the Civil Code, who sat in on the committee session, said, "Most members of the Japanese government delegation made a point of repeating prepared, boilerplate explanations of systems and laws in response to the various questions posed by the CEDAW members.

""Several CEDAW members pulled the translation headphones out of their ears, apparently because they were so disgusted," Osawa said.

"As lawyer Mikiko Otani, an expert in international human rights law, put it, "The way the Japanese officials responded to the panel members should be considered a reflection of their lack of knowledge of the U.N. treaty and also Japan's lack of a sense of responsibility as a signatory country to the treaty."

""I think Japan, a country that seeks to hold a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, should be ashamed of being subject to such criticism from the gender equality panel," she added.

"The pact for abolishing discrimination against women has led Japan to enact a number of laws, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Law in 1985 and laws requiring both boys and girls to take a homemaking course in middle school and high school, enacted in 1993 and 1994, respectively.

"Although CEDAW recommendations have no binding power, they nonetheless have been a catalyst for advancing gender equality, such as spurring this nation's legislation to bring about the Basic Law for a Gender-Equal Society in 1999 and the Domestic Violence Prevention Law in 2001.

"However, a mountain of issues remain unaddressed.

"Japan ranked 58th among 108 countries on the most recent U.N. index on women's social participation, one of the the lowest among industrially advanced nations.

"Highlighting the disparity between women and men in this nation, women account for less than 10 percent of the members of the House of Representatives, while women section chiefs in private sector companies stand at a mere 6.6 percent.

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"Optional Protocol left unratified

"Every one of this nation's lawmakers should be held responsible for failing to pay due attention to the international gender equality treaty and related U.N. recommendations that have resulted in delays in ending the disparities that disadvantage women.

"A legislator-sponsored bill calling for a revision of the Civil Code in response to CEDAW recommendations has been repeatedly presented to the Diet. But the bill that would delete provisions that discriminate against women has been scrapped every time without in-depth deliberation.

"Japan's failure to ratify the Optional Protocol on the convention on the elimination of discrimination against women also is being questioned by the international community.

"The protocol stipulates that a mechanism should be put in place that would allow individual women who have exhausted legal and other avenues available within Japan to report directly to CEDAW to ask them to inquire into alleged human rights violations against them.

"As Japan has been repeatedly urged to ratify the protocol, government ministries and agencies concerned have been studying the wisdom of doing so.

"However, with many politicians expressing wariness about signing a protocol they say might come into conflict with the principle of independence of the nation's judiciary, no earnest discussions have yet to take place in the political arena.

"Following the latest screening by CEDAW, a new set of recommendations will be issued as early as late August, around the time new members of the lower house have been elected in the coming general election.

"Judging from the way CEDAW carried out the screening of the Japanese government-submitted report, its recommendations will most likely be pretty tough.

"This country should be humble in accepting the forthcoming recommendations and both the government and legislature should be ready to tackle the task of adopting and enforcing gender equality policies in a way considered worthy of a full member of the international community."

By Mihoko Tsukino (Yomiuri Shimbun, 7/30/2009), Link to article (last visited 7/31/2009)

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