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Turning the Tide on Japan’s Gender Discrimination

SNA (London) — Shiori Ito won rape lawsuit damages in what may be indicative of the tide turning against Japan’s poor record on gender equality; but for now, Japan’s performance in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020, released last week, speaks of a grim reality.

Japan has dropped even further in the world gender equality rankings, an eleven-point drop to 121st out of 153 surveyed countries; last place among developed nations, and by far the lowest nation in the G7, behind Italy who ranked at 76th place.

While the gender gap has narrowed in the education and health sector, it is still wide in terms of wages, where Japan ranked 121st, and political empowerment, where the country ranked at 144 out of 152 countries. Only 10.1% of lower house politicians in Japan are female, with a mere three women in Abe’s nineteen-member cabinet (following only one woman in the previous cabinet). This means that Japan, a supposedly democratic nation, has less female political representation than countries like Russia, where domestic abuse has been “decriminalized,” India, where marital rape is legal, and Saudi Arabia, where women were only granted the legal right to drive a year ago.

In what could be seen as the light at the end of a dark tunnel, Shiori Ito was awarded 3.3 million yen (about US$30,000) in damages in her rape lawsuit case last week. This case has turned into a long, grueling saga since Ito first went public with the allegations in 2017, two years after the events of 2015 in which Noriyuki Yamaguchi, a high-profile Japanese journalist, allegedly raped Ito following dinner and drinks in which the two discussed a job opportunity.

After going public, Ito was not praised for her bravery or her courage—to the contrary, she initially faced death threats, harassment, and public mockery on television by Japanese officials.

As a result, Ito was essentially forced to move out of the country and to the United Kingdom, where she currently resides. She also had to go public because of police inaction; an arrest warrant for Yamaguchi was overturned at the last minute by Itaru Nakamura, the head of criminal investigation, who was also the former secretary of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

Last week’s court verdict recognized, however, that Ito was “forced to have sex without contraception, while in a state of unconsciousness and severe inebriation,” noting that “the plaintiff continues to suffer from flashbacks and panic attacks until now.”

Ito has shown immense resolve and courage in continuing to push for justice. As she held up a “victory” banner outside Tokyo’s district court following the ruling, the suspect Yamaguchi, who is also a confidant and the biographer of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, had his 130 million yen (about US$1.2 million) countersuit dismissed.

This case symbolizes the role that Abe and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in creating the climate in which Japan tumbles down the international gender rankings.

Abe previously said that “women are Japan’s most underused resource,” and has advocated a society where “all women shine.” However, the facts tell a different story. The prime minister has defended and protected cabinet ministers such as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, who blames sexual harassment victims for their victimization. In May 2018, the Abe Cabinet even officially endorsed Aso’s claim that “the crime of sexual harassment does not exist.”

Moreover, Takumi Nemoto, whom Abe appointed as Labor Minister, thinks that it is “necessary and appropriate” for corporations in Japan to force women to wear high heels at work.

Only 15% of senior leadership positions in Japan’s business sector are held by women, and only 3.7% of CEOs are female. Not even a single Nikkei 225 listed company is headed by a Japanese woman.

Analysis by Kazuo Yamaguchi has revealed that women are promoted to higher positions in corporations at a slower rate than men, due to the often misguided belief that women are likely to quit the workforce in order to have children.

Employees are expected to spend most of their time at work, sacrificing sleep, holidays and even their wages by spending many hours working unpaid overtime shifts. While both parents in a typical husband-and-wife marriage are granted one year of paid leave, 95% of men opt out, meaning the burden of housework and child-rearing falls at the feet of women, forcing some to quit the labor market.

If women do re-enter the labor market after having children, they will most likely go into “non-regular” employment, which is far less stable and secure and poorly paid. This is encouraged by government policy, which provides incentives to spouses who earn less in the form of tax exemptions and free pensions, health, and long-term care insurance.

At least nine universities, including Tokyo Medical University, were discovered to have rigged their exams against females for a number of years, essentially barring them from the sector altogether.

These are only a few of the most egregious cases revealing the grim reality that Abe’s Japan richly deserves its growing reputation for permitting gender discrimination to endure.

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