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JAPAN:Wooing Women as Birth Rates Drop
TOKYO, Jan 10 (IPS) - Gender equality has been a distant dream in Japan but a drastic national population decline is forcing the government to take steps to help women -- if only to encourage them to have more children.
''The yellow signal has started flickering,'' said health minister Jiro Kawasaki, late December, referring to the low birth rate and the consequent threat to the national economy.
The government now acknowledges that the consequences of declining birth rates --1.29 per woman-- can be addressed partly by increasing jobs for women and expanding the retirement age to 70 years from the current 65 years.
But women remain cautious. ‘'It is great to hear the government saying women must be supported to increase the population. But there is a lot more to do before women really decide Japan has the right environment to have children,'' says Yuko Ashino, a reproduction expert and former head of the Japan Family Planning Institute.
She says Japanese women are not having children because they are anxious and worried about the future and are disappointed that the government does not do more.
Japan spends less than two percent of its GDP on support for child- rearing compared, for example, to Britain that has a figure of more than 2.5 percent.
''Women need an environment where they can start a family and keep working without facing a heavy financial burden. They also do not want to shoulder the social responsibility of taking care of the children. But the government has not told us yet how exactly women can ease these burdens,'' she explained.
Indeed, experts point out, declining birth rates have long been a nagging problem for the government that has tried various programmes during the past decade and failed.
For example, the health ministry advocated two ‘Angel Plans' where government budgets expanded the number of nurseries for working mothers during the nineties to more than 24,000 across the country.
But to no avail. Japan's current population of 128 million is expected to drop to 100 million in 2050 if nothing in a business as usual scenario.
Today, according to reports released by the National Institute of Population and Social Security last month, Japan's birth rate is declining extremely fast, compared to that in the United States and Europe and identified young people as not having children because they cannot afford to get married or because of heavy education costs.
Data released by the institute indicate that almost 70 percent of women raising children want more financial support for education. The number of couples who got married in 2005 was 713,000-- the fourth year in decline.
Sumiko Shimizu, former legislator and now member of a working panel of women advocating for gender equality, identifies the latest figures to a gap between expectations by the government and changes in women's lifestyles which she says is at the core of Japan's population decrease.
"Younger women want to work and enjoy their independent lifestyles. Marriage in Japan carries heavy social responsibilities for women which is why they delay tying the knot," she said.
Akiko Yahagi, 30, can vouch for that. Yahagi graduated in international relations in Japan, then spent three years in the United States studying design.
Yahagi works in a foreign bank and says marriage is but a distant dream. ‘'I am too busy enjoying my work to start a family. Perhaps when I am forty I will consider taking on the responsibility,'' she explained.
Shimzu also blames increased global competition faced by Japanese companies that want to reduce personnel costs by hiring women as part- timers. Half the working population is female but more than 60 percent of that number is employed as part-timers.
''The trend among private companies is to hire women as part-timers to lessen personnel costs such as paying bonuses or paid vacation. I doubt this will change as Japan faces increased competition in the global market," she says.
Katsuya Saito, official in charge of a new health ministry department called Support for Child Rearing, says the central government plans to take several landmark steps to change the situation.
Plans include doubling current child allowances, from April this year, to 100 US dollars per month for couples having their third child. New regulations are also being readied to nudge companies to decrease working hours for both men and women so they can share the family workload.
"The government now acknowledges that the key to higher birth rates is to make it easy for women to work and have a family. Our new plans will help to change the situation," he said. (END/2006)
毎日新聞 2006年1月10日 15時00分
人権ＮＡＰ勧告案確定 (中央日報・日本語版 2006/01/10)
国家人権委員会（委員長チョ・ヨンファン）は国家保安法廃止、公務員・教師の政治活動範囲の拡大、非正規職に対する「同一労動同一賃金」適用、争議に対する職権仲裁範囲の縮小などを主な内容とする国家人権政策基本計画（人権ＮＡＰ＝Ｎａｔｉｏｎａｌ Ａｃｔｉｏｎ Ｐｌａｎ ｆｏｒ ｔｈｅ Ｐｒｏｍｏｔｉｏｎ ａｎｄ Ｐｒｏｔｅｃｔｉｏｎ ｏｆ Ｈｕｍａｎ Ｒｉｇｈｔｓ）勧告案を９日確定、発表した。
'인권 NAP' 권고안 확정
보안법 폐지, 공무원 정치 활동 확대 등
국가인권위원회(위원장 조영황)는 국가보안법 폐지, 공무원.교사의 정치활동 범위 확대, 비정규직에 대한'동일 노동 동일 임금' 적용, 쟁의에 대한 직권중재 범위 축소 등을 주요 내용으로 하는 국가인권정책 기본계획(인권 NAP.National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights) 권고안을 9일 확정, 발표했다.
인권위가 전원위원회 의결을 통해 확정한 권고안은 자유권.사회권 등 시민권과 정치적 권리보호를 위주로 한 '인권증진을 위한 인프라 구축', 장애인.비정규직 노동자.여성.성적 소수자 등 11개 범주로 구분된 '사회적 약자.소수자 인권보호' 관련 사항으로 구분된다.
권고안에는 공무원의 정치활동을 금지한 관련법을 개정해 공무원과 교사의 정치활동 범위를 확대하라는 주문이 포함됐다. 인권위의 이 같은 입장은 교사의 정치활동 제한을 합헌으로 판단한 헌법재판소의 결정 등과 배치된다.
권고안은 보안관찰제도의 폐지, 반인권 범죄의 공소시효 배제 또는 정지, 학생의 종교 교과목 선택권 보장 등도 담았다. 사형제 폐지, 종교적 병역거부 인정 등 그동안 인권위가 정부에 권고했던 내용도 포함됐다.
비정규직 보호와 관련, 인권위는 '동일 노동 동일 임금' 원칙을 강조하고 사회보험 적용을 확대하도록 했다.
성적 소수자 보호를 위해 성전환 수술에 국민건강보험을 단계적으로 적용하는 방안을 검토하도록 제안하고, 동성 간 강간방지 차원에서 강간죄를 포괄적으로 규정하도록 형법 개정을 주문했다.
인권위는 권고안을 곧 정부에 내며, 정부는 이를 상당 부분 수용해 인권 NAP를 만들 계획이다. 정부는 이 계획을 유엔에 보고한 뒤 세부 실천계획을 만들어 내년부터 2011년까지 5년간 시행한다. 하지만 인권위의 권고안에는 그동안 사회적 논란이 돼온 사안들이 다수 포함돼 있어 추진 과정에서 사회 각계의 반발 등 진통이 예상된다.
조 위원장은 "국제적 인권기준을 고려해 한국 사회의 인권개선을 위해 반드시 이행돼야 할 과제를 담은 인권 NAP 권고안을 의결했다"며 "정부는 권고안 내용을 최대한 수용하길 바란다"고 밝혔다.
◆ 국가인권정책 기본계획(인권 NAP)=한 국가의 인권보호와 신장을 위한 법.제도.정책의 종합 실행 계획. 1993년 오스트리아 빈에서 열린 세계인권회의에서 참가국들이 만장일치로 국가인권기구 설립과 인권 NAP 수립을 결의했다.
유엔 경제사회문화 권리위원회는 2001년 5월 한국에 인권 NAP 수립을 권고했고, 한국은 올해 6월 30일까지 유엔에 인권 NAP를 보고해야 한다. 국가인권위의 권고안은 구속력은 없으나 법.제도.정책 개선의 가이드라인 성격을 갖고 있다.
-정부의 쟁의 직권중재 축소
-대책 없는 강제철거 금지
-성전환 수술의 건보 적용
-공무원.교사 정치활동 확대
Updated Jan.10,2006 16:51 KST
Human Rights Commission Finalizes an Action Plan - Digital Chosun
Korea's National Human Rights Commission on Monday finalized an action plan to promote human rights and protect the less privileged in society. The plan calls for greater political rights for government officials and teachers, who are currently banned from joining political parties or taking collective political action.
Once again, the panel recommended that the government abolish the controversial National Security Law, anti-communist legislation banning unauthorized contact between South and North Koreans. The commission also suggests that the government recognize conscientious objectors to the country's mandatory military service on moral or religious grounds. It also says temporary workers and foreign laborers in Korea should be granted greater rights. The panel recommends that sex change operations should be gradually included in health insurance policies and that people with the HIV or the hepatitis B viruses be given equal treatment when applying for jobs.
"The commission bases the recommendations not on the opinions of certain interest groups but on international human rights standards. We have held several workshops with experts to ensure that the suggestions are feasible," the committee said.
But some observers have expressed concern that the commission's announcement could fuel controversy as its suggestions touch on some thorny issues such as the much-debated security law. A Cabinet meeting is to devise a policy plan based on the recommendations to be submitted to the UN by June. Seoul is to implement the final human rights plan over five years starting in 2007.
Rights Action Plan Stirs Debate
By Kim Cheong-won
Staff Reporter - Korea Times
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is getting mixed reactions over its proposed National Action Plan as it contained many controversial issues such as the guarantee of political activities by public servants and abolition of the death penalty.
The state human rights panel on Monday drafted a 260-page report on the action plan to better protect human rights in South Korea.
In the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action adopted in 1993, the World Conference on Human Rights recommended that member states consider the desirability of drawing up a national action plan identifying steps to improve the promotion and protection of human rights.
South Korea is required to report the country's national action plan to the United Nations by the end of June and then implement it over five years from 2007.
According to the report, the commission called for the revision of the labor law which bans public servants from union-related political activities to give more political freedom to civil servants and teachers.
If the recommendation is adopted, the revision of the law is expected to stir up controversy because it runs counter to the Constitutional Court's ruling, that prohibiting teachers and civil servants from engaging in political activities is constitutional.
The commission has asked for the revision of the law, saying that the ban runs counter to the principle of equality because professors at national and public universities are allowed to take part in political activities while teachers at elementary, middle and high schools don't enjoy the same rights.
``If the revision is adopted, it could violate students' education rights because students might be affected by teachers' political inclination. Students have also rights not to be affected by political influence,'' said Hong Jin-pyo, executive director at the conservative civic group Liberty Union.
Political parties are also divided over the issue. Three political parties, the ruling Uri Party, the Democratic Party and the Democratic Labor Party welcomed the move, saying that it will enhance human rights in the country.
However, the main opposition Grand National Party opposes it, saying that the recommendations will destroy the basic order of the democracy and shake the basis of the country.
When it comes to enhancing labor rights, the commission is also seeking to get rid of the government's mediation in labor disputes and to lessen criminal and civic punishment of strikers.
In addition, the panel suggested a reduction in the number of government-designated workplaces in which workers have restricted rights to collective action because disrupting their work could cause public harm.
The commission also advised the government to take necessary measures guaranteeing the same conditions and benefits given to regular workers such as wages, working hours and welfare benefits to non-regular workers.
In addition, the panel recommends that sex change operations be gradually included in health insurance policies.
``The commission's recommendation is in line with the International Labor Organization's suggestions. The government should improve the labor circumstances based on the recommendations,'' said Lee Su-bong, an official at the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.
Those who oppose the recommendations, however, argue that it doesn't take reality into consideration.
``A recommendation is just a recommendation. I think it is an idealistic declaration without considering the reality of the labor situation,'' said an official at the Ministry of Labor.
He added that the commission has exceeded its authority, which is only to suggest guidelines on human rights.
One of the thorny issues in the recommendations is to provide conscientious objectors with an alternative to mandatory military service.
The recommendation, however, contrasted with a Constitutional Court decision last August that affirmed the current conscription law as lawful. The top court said religious beliefs couldn't come before national security.
Recently, Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung said that his ministry plans to launch a pan-governmental committee to study alternative civil service for conscientious objectors.
The ministry previously reacted negatively to the issue, citing a possible security gap resulting from the weakness of military manpower, as more young people could take on the alternative system to evade their mandatory service.
[NEWS ANALYSIS]Human rights body begins rough voyage - Korea Herald
The nation's human rights panel completed a set of guidelines on Monday recommending the government improve laws and systems protecting human rights. However, their recommendations are already stirring a backlash from political parties because they touch upon a number of contentious and sensitive issues in Korea.
Entitled as the National Action Plan, the National Human Right Commission is to advise the government to grant greater political rights to teachers and public servants and enhance labor rights for non-regular workers.
Currently, teachers and government officials are banned from engaging in political activities but the panel advises the government to consider granting them more political rights. However, the government is concerned that the public servants' labor union may emerge as a formidable force against the government if more political power is granted to them.
The Korean Government Employees' Union will become legally recognized this year.
However, expanding the political powers of the two groups is likely to engender a lot of controversy in a country where political neutrality has long been stressed in the public services and education.
When the nation's left-leaning teachers' union posted a controversial education material parodying APEC leaders on their website in October, the public highly criticized the union for being bent on providing ideologically biased education to students. In the face of the mounting criticism, the union put off its plan to hold a mass rally, which its members were expected to boycott classes to attend.
The panel said the government should abolish an anti-communist law stipulating the formation of and admission to any groups benefiting the enemy - that is, North Korea -.
The panel also recommends that health insurance polices to be phased in provide for sex change operations. Meanwhile another of its suggestions, if approved, would outlaw employers from discriminating against job-seekers who are HIV-positive or carrying the hepatitis B virus.
The government is to submit an action plan on the matter to the United Nations by June and then implement it over five years starting in 2007.
In 1993, a U.N. human rights conference held in Austria recommended that members draw up their own action plans to improve human rights. The government decided to devise its plan based on recommendations from the human rights panel.
Describing it as a master plan to improve the nation's human rights, the commission also acknowledges that some of the issues touched on are thorny issues. But said it will overcome opposition by phasing in the plan.
"If the government supported Koreans by establishing a five-year-plan in order to boost up the nation's economy, now is the time to improve the nation's human rights," said Kwak No-hyun, president of the commission.
The main opposition Grand National Party furiously criticized the human rights panel while the ruling Uri and other minor parties welcomed its decision and vowed to take further action.
"Enhancing the nation's human rights should be a national ambition. It is meaningful because it suggests principles and standards on human right issues," said Rep. Jun Byung-hun of the Uri Party.
"We (policymakers) should begin to discuss abolishing the National Security Law in line with the commission's recommendation, said Rep. Park Yong-jin of the Democratic Labor Party.
The main opposition GNP expressed cautious opposition to the recommendation saying the decision has been made out of political interest.
"The commission has no right to talk about human rights while sticking to political issues while keeping their mouth shut over human right issues on North Korea, said Rep. Lim Tae-hee of the GNP.
"I feel sorry that the commission approached human rights, the universal issue for all of us, from 'their own perspective,'" he added.
By Cho Chung-un
Posted on Mon, Jan. 09, 2006
Author to tourists: See the authentic Japan
By John Bordsen
The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer
What's it like to live in a far-off place most of us see only on a vacation? Foreign Correspondence is an interview with someone who lives in a spot you may want to visit.
Karin Muller, 40, lives in Raleigh, N.C., but this author/filmmaker is often at exotic locales. Her new book "Japanland" (Roeale, $23.95) is the companion volume to the same-name travel documentary now airing on public TV.
Q. You lived with a Japanese family for seven months. How did that go?
A. I'm a competitive judo player, and the father in the family was a sixth-degree black belt, as well as CEO of a very large insurance corporation. He's the most intelligent and smoothest man I ever met. I worship him. He always knew precisely what to say and is extraordinarily good at handling relationships and social situations.
I lived in the "granny suite" attached to their house, in a suburb of Tokyo. Eventually I moved to Osaka on my own.
Q. Americans get such jarringly different images of Japan: Urban neon and strange fads - versus tradition and tranquility. Samurai simplicity and honor - versus chain-smoking businessmen crammed into subway cars. Which are the valid impressions?
A. All of them. I originally thought the film would have judo as it backbone, with some kind of fantastic ending. That didn't work out. What instead fascinated me was seeing the contradictions - pockets of ancient Japan that survive and thrive in an incredibly sophisticated economy.
You see the sidewalks, neon signs and cars in Tokyo, a more Western city than any I've ever seen. Yet also in Tokyo, you'll find some 40 sumo stables - a step 300 years in the past, where people are living in a feudal lifestyle. You see the same in Kyoto, where a geisha lives a feudal lifestyle.
There are over 100 such pockets throughout Japan.
In the northern mountains, there's a 1,400-year-old pre-Buddhist mountain ascetic cult called Yamabushi. Its followers sort of wander around, worshipping trees and waterfalls and all sorts of things. Not what you'd expect to see in modern Japan.
Here's a good example of how old and new manage to blend: I joined a Samurai mounted archery team; you go to practice on Saturday, get on ex-racehorses, and - decked out in 400-year-old clothing and on ancient saddles, gallop horses and shoot arrows at targets during a 12-second run.
But when you talk to the men on the team, you learn most of them are "salarymen" - the term for up-and-coming businessmen who work 6 ½ days a week and wear just the right suits, carry the right suitcase and have their short hair parted 7/10ths of the way across their head.
And on weekends, they turn into mounted archers.
I saw a lot of what we'd consider a contradiction. But they manage to use essentially ancient culture and traditions to underpin modern society.
Q. What's life like in a Tokyo suburb?
A. Very modern because it was a very expensive suburb of the most expensive country in the world. It had all the modern conveniences.
You're not allowed to buy a car until you've gone to the local police station and proven you have a space for it. Space is at a premium. This is not the traditional Japan with old, winding streets.
Yet there's no such thing as a Wal-Mart, nor big supermarket. Virtually all women went shopping on bicycles, to tiny corner stores. The grocer, the dried-fish seller, the tea merchant, the rice merchant, the tofu seller. These are 1960s bikes with baskets on the front and kids on the back.
There's no parking lot for cars at the store; there'll be 100 bikes there. And these wives buy their stuff, go home and cook dinner.
The largest supermarket we had would be considered a tiny corner market by Americans.
Walking down the street, you'd think you were in America, except for the writing on the signs. But go into this market and you'd see three aisles of seaweed, virtually no processed food, and one tiny corner I called the "bad mom" corner because they had sweets there. Plus three dust-covered liter bottles of Coca-Cola.
Q. Yet we hear so much about Japan's cutting-edge youth culture. How does this play out?
A. Youth culture is huge at the same time. They're called "new human beings" by the older generation, which is baffled by Japanese youth, especially urban youth, which they see as almost an alien species. Must be what the 1960s were like in America. A real generation gap.
When I was there, the fad was 9- to 12-inch platform shoes and wearing black face paint covered with white makeup. It was extraordinary.
But it's not like Japan is in crisis. I started to realize that when these young women turn 30 - the traditional age by which you must be married - they take off the platform shoes and find a husband, often through a matchmaker. They settle down in an apartment, get a bicycle and have babies.
It's the same way Americans who burned their bras in the `60s are all Republicans now.
I met a number of women - the rule, not the exception - who when they turned 30 said, "I'm going to get married this year." To whom? "I don't know; I haven't met him yet."
One-third of marriages in Japan are still arranged. It's not like in India, where you first meet your spouse at the altar. But you go through a matchmaker, or two sets of parents get together through an alumni association or something and have a meeting - lunch or coffee, perhaps - for the explicit purpose of seeing whether the two young people they brought along would be compatible for marriage.
Q. You're a single woman. Did you go on a date over there?
A. Remember my host father? Smooth as single-malt Scotch? He always knew what to say - except one time. He was at the dinner table, talking about finding a matchmaker for his daughter, who is 28. I said, as a joke, "Papa-san, can you find a husband for me?"
The man's face went white, like a shark just bit him at the knees. He was speechless.
That gave me an indication of how difficult and expensive it must be to marry off a 35-year-old white woman in Japan.
I had only one pseudo-date. If something was very important, I'd hire a guide to help me translate. At one point, I stayed with and filmed a homeless man in Osaka, so I asked the tourist association to get me a guide.
The man was in his 30s. He turned up with black teeth - a four-pack-a-day smoker - and immediately got drunk. He told me he was a Marxist living off his girlfriend. And for some reason, she wouldn't have sex with him.
After we did our film gig, he called me up at 2 in the morning to ask for a date. As he explained - drunkenly - it wasn't just to have sex; he wanted to speak with me as well.
Q. What would you advise a first-time visitor to do, knowing what you know now?
A. I'd try to experience Japan as a participant, rather than a spectator. Japanese tourism is set up to be a spectator sport: Go to Kyoto, see a temple, see a garden, see a temple ... eventually you get templed out. Same with festivals.
It's possible, even during a brief visit, to get behind what they call "tateme"- the facade Japan gives the world. Get a glimpse of the true, inner character, the "honne."
There's a monastery on Mount Koya, four or five hours by train from Kyoto. You can spend the night, sleeping in traditional Japanese quarters, in a room with rice-paper walls on a mat or futon. Eat Japanese food. Hear monks chant in the morning. That's what I'd look for.
民主が地方議員倍増計画 「女性県議ゼロ」解消に力 来春の統一選にらみ 2006/01/10 08:23 共同