Japan has to do more, now and in the future, to promote equality for women
Date: Monday, July 22, 2019
Author: Mayumi Sato
Since the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action charted the world’s course on women’s rights and empowerment, we have seen great progress both within countries and internationally. Literacy has increased, poverty has been reduced, and there is a greater urgency to address climate change and xenophobia. The situation of women and girls around the world is gradually improving and our accomplishments are commanding global attention.
Yet despite our promising trajectory, there is still much to be done to fulfill the commitments of the Declaration and Platform for Action.
In my country, Japan, gender inequality is pervasive and embedded in our social structures. Discussions on women’s rights and gender-based discrimination are whisked away from mainstream conversation. This leaves women and girls very little room to express dissent. Our traditional cultural values consider gender imbalances to be “normal”. The roles of Japanese women are tied to tradition – we are frequently obliged to conform to outdated gender norms. Gender inequalities manifest in all aspects of our everyday life.
Even though Japan took part in molding the Beijing Declaration, many incidences of gender-based discrimination are still reported in the country. While the Declaration commits us to “ensure equal access to and equal treatment of women and men in education and health care”, there have been reported incidents in recent years of educational institutions altering women’s test scores to prevent them from enrolling.
Ignoring their skills and potential, traditional gender norms relegate women to household duties, child-rearing, and looking after the elderly, with little support. We are poorly represented in the workforce, and men have greater opportunities for economic, political and social mobility. We lack representation in media, academia, and political institutions, limiting our ability to contest the very gender tropes that limit our opportunities. Because gender equality is discussed only peripherally in Japan, very little has been done since the Declaration to hold accountable the institutions that impinge on our freedoms.
There also is a pressing need to address how women will be affected by the country’s rapid technological, economic and social shifts. For example, it is projected that service jobs typically fulfilled by women, such as cashier and librarian positions, will to become automated in future decades. New digital technologies will further complicate our opportunities, rights, and ability to determine our own future.
We must think not only about historical actions that curtailed women’s rights and led to the drafting of the Beijing Declaration. We must think not only about present efforts to even the playing field for women who have been historically disenfranchised. We must also anticipate the effects on women and girls brought on by the future trajectory of labour, climate change, and political and social movements.
Having lived in many countries, including in Asia and North America, I have seen how women worldwide commonly suffer from institutional discrimination. When I read the Beijing Declaration, I was inspired and reassured to know that people worldwide are building solidarity to fight for a just and gender-equal world. As a young feminist who is trying to translate the Declaration into practice through grassroots action, I am committed to try to destigmatize conversations around women’s rights in my country and beyond.
Just as the Declaration says we should acknowledge the “voices of all women everywhere”, I am committed to using my voice to advocate for the rights of all women. As a young woman from the Asia-Pacific, I am committed to building on the work of the many women and men before me who fought for equal rights and a just and sustainable future for all.
Mayumi Sato is originally from Japan but grew up in various places around the world. She is a Research Associate at the Center for People and Forests, based in Bangkok, Thailand. The center promotes social inclusion and gender equity in forest landscapes in Southeast Asia and Nepal. Mayumi is completing her second year as a Princeton in Asia Fellow, where she has worked for the rights of migrant workers, indigenous people and women. She believes solidarity building, reflection and cross-cultural understanding are critical to addressing society’s most pressing issues.
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