It refers to the equal treatment of people across genders. Before the era of settled agriculture, gender equality was practiced, with leaders coming from either gender. This however changed after settled agriculture where in most cultures, women have been depicted as a weaker sex in all aspects, and in very few places this feeling has vanished completely. However, with the rigorous campaigns and legislations across the countries, there is a hope for all people to be treated equally. Traditionally, there were different roles that were played by either gender and it was seen as a sin when another person from another gender attempted to perform the same duties. For instance, women were looked at as the agents of generation continuity, hence obliged to give birth and take care of the young children. As a result, they would spend most of their time at home stuck with household chores. Although men also worked within their homes in the preindustrial era, chores were divided and women would take care of children. They assumed the role of caregiver of the society because they would take care of home, children and even run errands on behalf of their husbands. The industrialization era created gender inequality because as men rushed to work in industries, women stuck with children and household chores. Eventually, women were not given similar exposure as men and this would translate to their miss in opportunities, such as education, leadership, employment among others. Today, this trend is present in most societies, although others have done well to shed it off.
After a long struggle, women started to gain a place in the society (Murata, 2005, 270). They started movements and groups that would push for their agenda. They started to push for their position to get involved during decision making processes, even on issues that were regarded as sensitive. One key area that they had been exempted was the process of voting for leaders. In history, voting for leaders was left for men and it was not until the late 19th century that the first country, New Zealand allowed their women fraternity to vote (Murata, 2005). This was in 1893 and was followed by the United States in 1920, then the United Kingdom in 1928. Japan, Italy and France granted women suffrage in 1945. The same was not allowed in Switzerland till 1971. Due to the pressure from human rights activists, as well as women groups, countries, such as the United States have opened up opportunities for women. However, there are many other countries that have upheld the traditional beliefs that women are inferior to men.
The main objective of this research paper will be to determine the extent, to which legislation has changed the gender inequality in Japan, with respect to children birth rate and women involvement in employment opportunities. Other objectives will be:
- To determine the effects of gender inequality in Japan
- To analyze the laws on gender equality
- To evaluate the effectiveness of policies on gender equality
- To generate relevant recommendations
In order to meet the objectives set out in the paper, secondary sources will be used to determine the extent, through which legislation in Japan has improved the status of gender inequality. A qualitative analysis of these laws will be made, then the extent of their success will be determined. Since all these laws are geared towards ensuring that the country remains the top economic state, it will look into the data that scholars have put across in previous studies, then determine whether there is any change that the legislation has brought to the women fraternity and consequently their effects on the economy and the Japanese society at large. More research from other data will be determined and the reasons for the trends that will be obtained will be determined, after which recommendations on what the government should do to make the situation better will be brought forward.
Gender Equality in Japan
Japan is ranked among the largest and competitive world economies. Among the key notable aspects in the development and support of the economy is the absence of women in distinct careers. In the recent years, this void has been addressed and economists have identified that for the economy to improve, women involvement must be increased from where they are today as casual laborers and move to managerial positions. This gender imbalance has been very consequential and the government has been forced to consider the involvement of women in the economic development. Looking down upon women has resulted into many problems and shortcomings to the economy. The two main negative effects of the seclusion are discussed.
Slow Birth Rate
Over the last few decades, the rate of birth in Japan has declined sharply. In 2004, IPSS reported that Total Fertility Rate (TFR) stood at 1.36 in 2000, compared to 1.75 in 1980 and 3.60 in 1950. Ishii-Kuntz (2003, 205) noted that this was a major concern to the government because today’s poor birth rate would translate into a very lean workforce in future. It would, therefore, mean that labor in future would be expensive and scarce, thus a slow economy (Morley, 1999). It would be a very important pointer into the sustainability of the economy. The Japanese government believes that the inclusion of women into the production process would fill the gap of diminishing labor as well as give them opportunities to feel socially appreciated. While other economies admit women between the age of 30 and 55 years to get involved in production, the Japanese government does not. Only about 55% of women at their prime age of about 40 years work (Sugimoto, 2003). They work until they get married when they retire to their homes and start looking after their children and husbands. This is opposed to the women in other countries, such as the United States, where starting a family does not require a woman to leave her job. For women to continue working, therefore, they have to forego giving birth or getting married, which explains the low birth rate.
Wasted Human Resource
Japanese women are among the most educated in the world. They, therefore, are among the most economically and socially productive (Araki, 2002). Studies have shown that they often do better than their male compatriots and make better workers and managers if given the chance to exercise their ability. However, their involvement is highly opposed by the cultural and social barriers that require women to remain at home. This explains why there are few women working in offices in Japan than in the U.S., despite Japanese women being more educated. In a study carried out by Sugimooto (2003), it was noted that the jobs done by high school graduates in 1970s and 1980s, which included serving tea, answering phone calls among other simple office chores are today held by the well educated people, many of them having graduated from the universities after 4 year courses. This is a very curious trend as compared to other developed states, where university graduates are offered jobs in managerial positions. The government, therefore, needs to come up with the strategies that will tap the human resource that is highly educated, instead of brushing them off on the basis of being women (Araki, 2002). They have worked exemplarily as translators, surpassing their male counterparts, meaning that they can be as good as, or even better than men are.
Another factor that has led to the development of current situation apart from the cultural and social aspects is the tax system. Currently, the system is well carved to depict the women as caregivers, and men as breadwinners. Women, who do not work or do not achieve a wage total of 1,030,000 yen, annually are not only allowed to have free health insurance cover and receive pension, but also have their husbands get a 380000 yen tax deduction. This is a system that despite taking care of a family budget goes ahead to reduce the motivation of women to go out and work in formal settings, where they would be treated as men (Araki, 2002). The system allows them to go out for casual labor, which limits their contribution to the economy.
Japanese Legislations on Gender Equality
The Japanese government has realized that there is dire need to ensure that the trends of low birth rate and low women participation in economic production are reversed. As a result, it has formulated policies that would encourage women to move out of their social and cultural cocoons and join the bandwagon of economic productivity. Further, these policies are formulated to ensure that women empowerment does not jeopardize the social obligation of giving birth and taking care of children.
One of the laws is the Equal Employment Opportunity Law (EEOL) that was first used in 1986. Suzukki (1996, 57) explains this law that required all private and public corporations to ensure impartiality with regard to gender during the process of recruiting new crew. Promotions and placement were to be done on merit, and gender should not take precedence of qualifications. All employees were to be treated in the same manner. This legislation was faced with many challenges because women are not ready to quit the traditional system. They prefer to raise their children other than leave them with employees at home. This means that they would not have similar treatments as men by default because they would be required to leave their jobs to carry out another social responsibility that is giving birth. The society does not forgive them from raising their children and they take it upon themselves to be the pillars of their young babies. Equal Employment Opportunity Law (EEOL) was, therefore, not very popular even among women as they saw no chance of getting continuous lifetime employment as men do. They are always prepared to have a break, where they would quit working after sometime, then come back later after they raise their children to a certain age. Few women benefit from this legislation as a result of this discontinuous working pattern.
The other law was the Childcare Leave Law that was enacted in 1992. This law aimed at ensuring that men were involved in the process of ensuring that the country developed economically at no expense of the social status by enhancing high birth rate. It was developed after the first was unable to fully address the issues that faced the country. This law gave parents the option of taking a full year leave to look after the young babies, with a reassurance that they would return to the same position that they held before the leave (Morley, 1999, 23). Its main implementation problem was the lack of punitive measures to employers who failed to honor it. Despite the law enactment, a government survey in 1999 indicated that husbands only spend 17 minutes a day with their parents on average (Yim, 2000, 13). The law has been designed with an assumption that men would carry some of the burden of childcare and allow women to go out and work as they look after the children. This was, however, very unsuccessful because a study carried out by the government in 2002 showed that only 0.33% of men took the leave (Gender Equality Bureau, 2004, 72). This was an indication that it had failed to meet the objectives it was meant to address. Its failure can be adequately placed on the cultural beliefs and practices where male masculinity is an important factor in determining one’s social situation. Employees, who take the leave, are often harassed when they get back to work because they are considered weak and non-masculine. Men could also leave their jobs to look after children. A case was reported, where an employee was quickly transferred to work in China after he had returned from the childcare leave, in order to save him from embarrassment from fellow employees (Ishii-Kuntz, 2003, 214). This shows that despite the defiance of employers to follow this law, employees themselves were not supportive of its enactment.
The Basic-Law for a Gender-Equal Society of 1999 was formulated to create guidelines and responsibilities on the groups and people that work for private sector or for the public sector. It aimed at creating the society that would consider both men and women equally, and give them opportunities to perform their duties equally in all fields and within a level environment. Responsibilities would be shared equally, as well as any benefits realized (Araki 2002, 47).
Further, the law on prevention of Spousal Violence and the Protection of Victims was then passed to ensure that there was no discrimination on the basis of any criteria. This law increased the punishment for violation of the law by increasing the restrain period from two weeks to two months. In 2003, there were over two thousand rape cases, in most of which husbands raped their wives with the assistance of another person. Gang rape would attract a minimum jail period of four years. The law later included the anonymity of the victims, which was strengthened in the restructuring of the victim protection law. The restructured law would address the issues of cultural victimization of people, whether men or women. It addressed punitive measures for the cases, where an employee would be mocked or punished for asking for the childcare leave, which was traditionally intolerable, despite being allowed by the law (Ishii-Kuntz, 2003, 201).
Later, the International Labor Organization introduced the law on labor standards that attempted to exclude children in employment and agreement situations. The law was clear on ages and the Japanese adopted the age of 15 as an underage, and it was prohibited to work for anyone, who was below the age of 18 as a special case, who required special types of job that was not risky.
Limitations to the Equality Legislations
Despite the above laws being put in place and their implementation well pointed out, their objective to increase birth rate and increase the number of professional women in workplaces has not been significantly improved. They seem to have failed in meeting the objectives they were set to. Figures show that only about 60% of women in the working age are actually working, in contrast to men’s 80%. One of the main factors that have hindered this success is the cultural background of the Japanese community (Brinton, 1993). The tradition has in its deep roots the belief that men are superior and the duty to bring up children belongs to women. Men believe that they are not supposed to be involved in the process of bringing up a family, taking into account that they are culturally supposed to exercise the role of the family breadwinner. When a man tries to deviate from this path to help the wife raise a good family, the society and people they live with start mocking and looking down upon them. They are, therefore, left with no peace and their lives become a misery. This accounts for the reason why the contact between men and their families lies at only seventeen minutes per day (Brinton, 1993, 60). It also explains why the law that gave me the option to join their wives to go and look after children failed to materialize, with less than one percent taking the childcare leave. This aspect of the society is known as Masculinity in Japanese males. It could be seen by examining the positions that men hold, most notably the parliament, which had over ninety percent of the lawmakers in 2001 being men. Business female managers were only 0.3% and all these held low positions in the organizations they worked for. Few of these held the position of the departmental heads.
The Japanese culture has equally withheld women from achieving their full potential. Women believe that there is no better means to raise a child than raising them by themselves, which they enjoy doing. They do not trust other people and would prefer leaving their jobs and raising the children to employing house help (Brinton, 1993, 112). This would eventually translate into women failing to seize the opportunities that have been created by the law. Despite being highly educated, lauded for their intelligence in places, where they work, they still believe that they have another responsibility to bring up a family. They cannot raise a family and at the same time go to work (Huen, 2007, 367). They always have to make a sacrifice on whether they would go out and work or whether they would get married and get children. Studies have shown that they do not believe that they can achieve both simultaneously. This belief is very different from that in other countries, where women take a short maternity leave and then get back to work after a few months. They work until late into the pregnancy and get back to work only months after the birth of their children. Japanese women would look after the children until they attain the age of going to school. The one thing that does not go in line with this trend is that despite the women having so much attachment to raising their children, the birth rate remains relatively low same as the number of women in various professions. This indicates the social stage that Japan is at the moment, one that most developed countries were in the early 1990s. The situation in Japan indicates that the country is only following the usual trend in development where women’s’ involvement in formal employment is accepted because of social pressure.
From the study, the effects of gender inequality cannot be sidelined during the process of formulating both social and economic policies in Japan. The slow birth rate and lack of women participation in economic development are issues that are highly attributed to gender inequality. The Japanese economy would perform even better if women were included. As the current population ages, there is a labor problem that could even grow bigger in future. The legislations have failed to bring the desired outcomes, with culture taking precedence in the social milieu. Despite the continuous encouragement from the government and its agencies for men to take responsibilities in child care, it has not worked and it should be improved. The government has even tried to articulate the domestic policies with those adopted internationally, but the void persists. The governmental economic policies are very different from those in other countries that have equal economic power as Japan. Little use and employment of women in big decision making positions both in public and private sectors, despite being relatively more learned and more informed, shows that the government is not utilizing the potential of its citizens (Huen, 2007, 369). It invests a lot of money in educating women, yet the environment is not fit enough to allow the educated women to utilize their education and productivity. Instead, the society erodes their ego and any effort to overturn this trend is always frustrated. It would, therefore, be very important that the government takes enough measures to ensure that the future labor force is not jeopardized by the current trends. It cannot be disputed that though the society has placed women lowly in the society, to remain in the house and give birth, this plan is not working at all, because the birth rate remains low, while at the same time the inclusion of women into economic development remains low. The main question that the government and the Japanese society should try to answer is how relevant women are to them, because they do not have any effect on the economy or on the population. A better treatment and approach to the whole issue could prove vital to ensure that women remain relevant both in giving birth to children, while at the same time offering their hand and expertise in economic development.
The Japanese government needs to ensure that these two trends are reversed as quickly as possible. More women managers are supposed to be included into the management of the government as well as private businesses. Further, restrictions on when and how they should be working should be well spelt out and their involvement in the process of development placed unrelated with the family responsibilities. The current perception and social push that a working woman cannot have children should be reversed. A report by the labor ministry showed that less than 1% women are managers, 73 of whom do not have children (Sugimoto, 2003, 157). Sugimoto also showed that women had a very big role in the economic development of Japan, accounting for over half of the total workforce. However, it was notable that the half works as part time as they dedicate more of their time to looking after their families. Working as part time employees leave them with little to enjoy as they are exempted from pensions, allowances among other benefits. Most of these women resume work after their children go to school. They are, therefore, surpassed by men, whom they worked with, because while they stopped to go out and look for their children, men continued with their work, leaving the women lagging in experience. This measure of competence is often misleading because the ground is not level for every worker.
Policies shape up the society (Huen, 2007, 372). They delegate the roles of the people within the society and provide guidelines on how each of these roles should be carried out. Every society has its values and need to put them into consideration during the formulation of their policies. The Japanese government has failed to successfully articulate the cultural background of the society and their policies, which can be attributed to the past failure of these policies. New policies that are relevant and practical within the society should be enacted and enforced. Copying policies from other countries will always be unsuccessful due to differences in beliefs and practices (Huen, 2007, 370).
Most Japanese women chose to do the secretariat and un jobs. They feel that the managerial positions would not accommodate them, especially when looking at the behavior of men in these positions. The men work for long hours and later go out to drink. This is something that women feel that they cannot manage and prefer to take the simple secretariat jobs that would not require a lot of their commitment. They look down upon themselves and do not believe that they can take up all these pressures and manage to raise families. However, the few that decide to follow their careers are faced with a quagmire to decide whether they should continue with their careers or should go back home and raise families. Most decide to follow the former and discard the latter. The government and other willing agencies should empower these women and make them realize that they can do both managerial and household obligations. They do not need to work longer than necessary or even drink after work. New structures that would accommodate the needs of women and their responsibilities within the society should be carved and enacted. The structures should be friendly to both men and women.