TV & Radio
Japanese Professor enthralls the students in Taiz
Dr. S. Mohanraj Faculty of Education Taiz University Taiz
Professor Yoriko Meguro from Sophia University, Tokyo is currently on a visit to Yemen. She specializes in Sociology and has conducted extensive research in the area of Women Studies (Gender Studies). She has received several national and international awards in recognition of her work. As part of her visit to this country she delivered two talks to university students, one at Sana'a and other at Taiz. Here is a report of her second talk at Taiz University on 14 December 2005. The talk was entitled 'Japan's Approach to Development and Gender Equality.'
Dr Meguro approached the topic of Development and Gender Equality from a historical perspective. The War battered Japan adopted two strategies for recovery and development. They were democratization and industrialization. Both these had an impact on the role women had to play in the future of Japan.
The process of democratization which began in the year 1945 focused on emancipation of women and as a first step granted suffrage to them which was hitherto denied to them. Further, women were allowed to contest election and a record number of 39 women were returned in the elections held in April 1946. This has been statistically the highest women's representation to date.
The second major step was to provide education to women. The objective of this measure was to saturate the society with 'wise mothers' who could 'raise good citizens'. This was one way women could serve the nation. By 1945 plans to universalize education were mooted, and every citizen in Japan would be entitled to free education at primary and middle school levels. This obviously included women.
The education so imparted had its own spin offs. The girls who now had education were more liberated and chose to postpone their marriages. They also exercised their right in choosing suitable marriage partners thus making marriage more sound and ideological. This brought about a change in the course of nation's progress. The delayed marriage put a check on the growing population and sadly also reduced the fertility rate among women. It was drastically reduced and stood at 1.32 conceptions per women in her life time. Another significant social change that came up as a result of this was establishment of nuclear families. Nuclear families also contributed to adoption of family planning measures including opting for abortions which were legalized.
The other spin off was seeing more women in the work force. Generally these women were young and single to begin with. Gradually, the scenario changed and married women also became part of the work force. Though the process of democratization aimed at providing equal opportunities to women, there was discrimination seen in the wages paid to women workers and the attitude employers bore towards them. This phenomenon which was true till recently has been put an end to.
Industrialization which was the second strategy of development aimed at economic growth. To help the industry function smoothly, Japanese Management System was developed. Each company had its own labour union - and the workers had a sense of dedication and commitment towards the company they were working for. Changing jobs was unheard of, and people were employed for life in companies. This sense of commitment was reciprocated by providing social security - and workers were identified with their companies. This sense of belonging helped boost the production and in turn the national economy.
The companies were interested in the welfare of their employees and organized campaigns for the wives of employees. The objective of such campaigns was to educate them about health, hygiene and family planning. Awareness was created among them to raise children properly, provide them with good education and also manage the finances of the family wisely.
Role of women and Gender Policies
The traditional Japanese society viewed woman as a housebound person - somebody carved out to look after the family and the needs of the children. But with democratization and industrialization housewives were forced to go into the labour market to supplement the family income. Because of the traditional mindset, women were discriminated against, and paid lower wages. They were given less importance on job (for e.g. not consulted when decisions had to be taken) and terminated from jobs when they attained motherhood. Career minded women had to wage battles against social norms and the pressures of the family.
There was another reason which forced women to join the workforce. This was an offshoot of industrialization. Traditionally, Japan was an agrarian society with 80% of the labour force employed in this sector. But with industrialization, there was a forced migration from rural areas into urban areas thus dealing a hard blow to the agriculture sector. In a few years the percentage came down to nearly 70% a substantial decrease. The family income from industry which seemed handsome was just sufficient to support the nuclear families. In other words the process of industrialization gave fillip to the already changing basic unit of social structure - the family.
The Government of Japan and the society at large brought in a large number of reforms to provide equal status to women, and also protect them. Here is a list of major events that changed the status of women:
_ 1950 - A law was enacted to prohibit prostitution.
_ 1975 - First conference on Women Empowerment was held.
_ 1980 - A Convention to remove discrimination of all types against women was organized.
_ 1980 - Patrilineal families were changed to bilineal families. Further laws were enacted to ensure citizenship was granted to a child born of wedlock of one of the Japanese parents. Hitherto such citizenship rights were granted to only those children whose father was a Japanese national.
_ 1985. - A convention was organized to recruit people for jobs without discrimination of sex. However, no penal code existed and hence employers continued to practice such discrimination. In the year 1997 a law was passed against such practice and became effective only in 1999.
_ 2000 - A law was passed to punish people treating women badly. NGOs took up the cases of battered wives and girls who were molested and sexually harassed. Several ex-husbands and ex-boy friends were brought to justice because of the pressure exerted by the NGOs.
Japan in the Global Scenario
At the initiative of Japan, UNDP toady has a wing on WID (Women in Development). WID works for mainstreaming gender perspective in all fields at all stages. (i.e. discrimination against employment and promotions) Today, because of this initiative, 50% of all women above the age of 15 years are employed. The percentage of senior women in the workforce has also increased. Women are today seen in politics, high profile executive positions and on Boards that are responsible for decision making. This has provided a visibility to women. In spite of all these reforms there is a nagging bitter after taste left behind - women's wages are still just 68% of their male counterpart. This has made the economic independence for women a far cry. Hopefully this lacuna will be a thing of the past in the near future.
Ms Arwa of the Department of English welcomed the gathering and Dr Meguro's talk was facilely interpreted into Arabic by Dr Intelaq of the Department of English, Sana'a University. The meeting concluded with a question answer session. The meeting was attended by over 700 students and luminaries of the university. Dr Wahbiya Moharram, Dean, Language Centre Taiz University coordinated the visit of Prof. Meguro. His Excellency the Ambassador from Japan to Yemen wore his position lightly and sat among the audience.