‘Have a seat but shut up please’: Whither equality?

February 22, 2021
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Dumb dolls’ may soon be adorning board meetings of Japan’s ruling party. As per a news report , in response to criticisms that its board is dominated by men, Japan’s ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has condescended to allow 5 female lawmakers to join its board meetings provided they keep their mouths shut and do not talk during the meetings. Their status will be that of observers to see how decisions were being made. They would not be able to speak during the meetings but could submit their opinions later to the secretariat office. According to the party’s 82-year-old secretary general, this move would allow more female LDP members to see how decisions were being made.

This is shocking and disturbing news, more so as it comes from a country that is touted as the world’s 3rd largest economy. What can be more humiliating to women than this mockery of their right to voice their opinion, and be subservient to their male counterparts despite being equally (or even more) qualified than them? This ‘dumb doll syndrome’ is conservative liberalism at its best in the world’s third largest economy wallowing in gender disparity. Currently only 2 of LDP’s 12 board members are women and only 3 of its 25-member general council are women.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DOES NOT NECESSARILY LEAD TO GENDER JUSTICE

Japan is a living example that economic development does not necessarily lead to gender justice. Despite being a highly developed and modern society, it has high levels of gender inequality. It has ranked 121st out of 153 countries on the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report – the worst ranking gap among advanced countries – and scores poorly on women’s economic participation and political empowerment.

Some poor economies in the region have ranked much higher-Bangladesh ranked 50, Nepal 101, Sri Lanka 102 and India 112.

Japan’s law requiring married couples to use the same surname is yet another obstacle to women’s empowerment and abets women’s subordination. In December 2019, a policy draft for gender equality, which made recommendations for allowing different surnames after marriage, was dropped after being stalled by conservative lawmakers. Japan is the only country in the world that does not officially allow married couples to have different surnames.

Also, while women represent 44% of the entire Japanese workforce, most of them (44%) are part-time or temporary workers, as compared to 12% of employed men. Moreover, Japan’s gender pay gap is the second largest among OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – a network of 37 nations) countries, after South Korea. In 2019, Japanese women earned 23.5% less than their male counterparts.

Cultural norms and stereotypes exclude women from leadership positions. Out of 192 countries, Japan ranks 167th in women’s representation in government. In 2019 , only 5.3% of board directors in Japanese companies were women. This is just a little above Indonesia (3.3%) and Kenya (2.1%).

PATRIARCHY STILL RULES THE ROOST IN JAPAN

Patriarchy still rules the roost in Japan and manifests itself in various forms. Tomoko Fukuda, Regional Director of International Planned Parenthood Federation for East & South East Asia and Oceania Region, who is from Japan, had said in a session co-hosted by Citizen News Service (CNS) at the 10th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights (APCRSHR10) that it is wrong to assume that once a country develops economically, women’s issues will also be solved accordingly. In many countries of the Asia Pacific region, including Japan, economic development is not the same for women and neither are sexual and reproductive health and rights the same for them. Fukuda gave the example of unmarried single Japanese mothers who cannot receive the same benefits as those who are married or divorced or widowed. While the law currently allows single mothers who are divorced or widowed to deduct a certain amount of money from their taxable income in order to reduce their tax burden, single mothers who have never been married do not qualify for this deduction. Some LDP members think that any revision in this law will undermine the so-called traditional family.

So, while Japan might have risen from the ashes after the 2nd World war as far as its economic growth is concerned, it scores very poorly in terms of growth of gender equality. Where women rights are concerned it is no better (perhaps worse) than many other patriarchal societies, fuelled by right wing and autocratic governments, of the region.

Gender parity has a fundamental bearing on whether or not economies and societies thrive.

Without giving meaningful representation to women in national and local politics; without changing legislation and social attitudes towards women’s unpaid domestic work and poorly paid jobs, women will continue to remain on the margins.

And as Bjorn Andersson, Regional Director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)’s Asia-Pacific regional office had rightly said almost a year back in APCRSHR10 Dialogues: we need to work together for societal change – so that the lives of women and girls are valued equally with the lives of men and boys. And, we must push back against the growing trends of conservatism that threaten our collective efforts so that we get the societies which governments have articulated in the 2030 Agenda.

Shobha Shukla – CNS (Citizen News Service)

(Shobha Shukla is the award-winning founding Managing Editor and Executive Director of CNS (Citizen News Service) and is a feminist, health and development justice advocate. She is a former senior Physics faculty of prestigious Loreto Convent College and current Coordinator of Asia Pacific Regional Media Network to #endTB & #endtobacco and #beatNCDs (APCAT Media). Follow her on Twitter @shobha1shukla or read her writings here www.bit.ly/ShobhaShukla)

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