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Posted on 20 Dec 2005 # Reuters
Japan conservatives voice gender equality concerns
TOKYO: Powerful members of Japan's ruling party, worried about an erosion of traditional ''family values'', look set to win a public nod to those concerns in a government plan to promote gender equality due to be approved next week.
The new five-year plan coincides with corporate efforts to mobilise women workers and managers to make up for a shrinking labour force and exhortations by analysts who see females as key to boosting growth in the world's second-largest economy.
It also comes, however, at a time when conservative members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are stepping up a campaign to court voters by tapping into feelings of patriotism and worries about a breakdown in traditional social values.
A draft of the gender equality plan, expected to be approved by the cabinet next week, sets a target of boosting women's presence in leadership positions in all areas to 30 per cent by 2020 -- an ambitious goal given that the ratio of female managers in Japan was 9 per cent in 2003 compared to 46 per cent in the United States, according to the International Labour Organisation.
The plan also urges improving employment conditions to help women return to work after raising children, encouraging their entry into scientific fields, and eradicating violence against women.
But in a sign of seeming unease, the draft also warns against trying to do away with all sex-based social distinctions, from colour-coded signs on public toilets and separate changing rooms for school kids to a traditional ''dolls festival'' for girls.
''To uniformly deny sexual differences ... to eradicate masculinity and femininity and all distinctions between males and females, to aim at the neuterisation of human beings and to deny the family and traditional culture, such as the dolls festival, differ from the aims of a 'male-female equality administration','' says a section of the draft plan obtained by Reuters.
Advocates of improving the status of women worry that the caveat -- which they say has seized on extreme examples that have little to do with gender equality per se -- will send a mixed message to officials charged with implementing the plan.
Gender-free not a key focus in LDP-led equality initiative
The Japan Times: Dec. 21, 2005
The government's upcoming action plan for gender equality will probably rule out uniform gender-free initiatives because of opposition from within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, sources said.
A draft outline of the five-year plan, which is to go into effect next April, says gender equality initiatives do not aim to "deny gender differences uniformly or eliminate entirely ideas of masculinity, femininity or gender distinctions under the term gender-free."
Some LDP members have objected to aspects of gender-free education, the sources said. The outline gives examples of what they consider improper elements of gender-free education, including making students of both sexes change clothes in the same room or stay overnight in the same room.
The outline says the government does not seek to deny family values or traditions.
Gender differences sometimes lead to discrimination or strictly defined gender roles, but a review of society should be undertaken while striving for a "social consensus," the plan says.
The government aims to have women hold at least 30 percent of leadership positions in politics and business by 2020, and help women who want to work after getting married or raising children.