TV & Radio
INT'L WOMEN'S DAY:
Hope for Maids in Japan
TOKYO, Mar 8 (IPS) - Lenny Tolentino, a Filipina activist who provides pastoral care for migrant women and children in Japan, says she wept tears of joy and relief when she read a new United Nations report on racism that calls for sweeping changes in the country.
''I have been struggling to be heard in Japan for more than 16 years and the U.N. report has made me jubiliant,'' says Tolentino who provides counselling, visits homes and offers other forms of support including shelter to hundreds of women migrant workers, mostly Asian, living in Japan.
Tolentino was referring to a new document compiled by Doudou Diene, who is the special rapporteur appointed by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, to examine contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in Japan.
Diene, who is from Senegal, officially visited Japan in July to gather information on the issue.
His report, considered the first comprehensive report on racism in Japan, was released at the end of January. While it noted some landmark steps towards human rights, the report bitterly criticised the daily discrimination in the country against foreigners and other minority groups and called for swift action to rectify the situation.
Diene based his report on several meetings with officials, lawyers and Japan's minority groups such as the Ainu, the indigenous people who live in Hokkaido, the Korean community and other foreigners such as Chinese and Brazilians as well as the Buraku people, a group of Japanese who were considered official outcasts in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
He concluded that racism in Japan is based on a historical background that goes back to the Japanese colonisation of the Korean peninsula and policies adopted during the Meiji period when the Japanese people were declared a single race under the Japanese emperor, making minority groups outsiders.
Activists in Japan have eagerly embraced the Diene report as a tool to compel the Japanese government to accept racism as a national problem and enact a human rights protection bill as soon as possible.
''Racism in Japan is so deep-rooted that it is almost invisible in society. It is only when you are foreigner or belong to a minority group that one faces such problems such as not being able to rent a home or find a job. Japan is one of the world's most racists countries,'' said Prof. Kinhide Mushakoji, president of the Japan Committee of the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, (IMADR-JC).
The report is also now being used by women activists to raise public awareness on daily discrimination faced by foreign women.
Tolentino says her work has shown rampant domestic violence against migrant women who marry or have Japanese partners because they are dependant on them for their visas. Sexual harassment from Japanese bosses at work is a common problem.
''The government has conducted no survey on these problems despite the wide abuse of female migrant workers in Japan. The most we can do as small grass-root groups, is to provide individual support to help these abused women to help them get out of a bad situation that can even result in their deaths if they are left alone,'' she says.
Migrant women work as entertainers, factory workers or maids in Japan. The new U.N. report points out that there is no job security in Japan which, activists say, is the root cause of the abuse and discrimination faced by female migrants in the country.
Song Jung Ji, a second generation Korean and head of a human rights network in Osaka, embraces the new report as an important landmark in her tireless work for the past 25 years to provide support for aging Korean women in Japan as well as new foreigners..
The report has noted the lack of education support for children of minority groups such as Japan's growing migrants from Latin America, and other Asian countries, a situation that Song says makes them the target of bullying by their Japanese counterparts..
Foreign women migrants, says Song, are forced to work long hours in factories or at bars and night clubs and their contracts do not provide paid holidays or health insurances which makes them and their children vulnerable to abuse.
''The Diene report does not cover specific cases of abuse against women but definitely shows the need for Japan to have a proper system of support in place against migrant workers,'' she points out.
Japan has around two million foreign workers plus more than 250,000 undocumented, a number that officials say could be double.
Song estimates that women comprise half that number but they face higher rates of discrimination given their low status in gender biased Japanese society where women are paid less than men in companies as well as have fewer promotions or full-time jobs. (END/2006)