The legislative elections to Japan’s lower house last October were the first since the Law on “Promoting Gender Equality in Politics” three years earlier. Yet the number of women elected to the House of Representatives, which has 465 seats, actually fell to 45, two fewer than in 2017, when Japan ranked 163rd out of 193 countries for equal opportunities. gender in politics. Feminists wanted the law to require parties to present an equal number of male and female candidates. But after fierce opposition from right-wing members of the Diet, all political parties need to do is “make every effort”.

Only 9.7% of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) candidates were women. The center-left Democratic Constitutional Party (CDP), the main opposition party, had 18.3 percent women. The Communist Party (JCP) did better with 35.4 percent and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) got 60 percent, but only nine candidates in total.

Feminism in Japan dates back to the late 19th century, when women demanded easier access to education and more political rights. As part of the modernization of the Meiji era (1868-1912), primary education became compulsory for all from 1872; a decree of 1886 obliged the prefectural authorities to provide secondary education. However, most universities did not accept women until after 1945, and even then, until 1995, most women attended two-year junior colleges. Everyone in Japan remembers the scandal, in 2018, when Tokyo University of Medicine (private) admitted that it had been reducing the marks of female entrance exams for years. (Japan has a very low percentage of female physicians by international standards.)

Women began demanding the right to vote as soon as universal adult male suffrage was granted in 1925. But in 1941, World War II forced them to dissolve their campaign organizations and join the Patriotic Women’s Association, and, in 1942, the Great Japanese Association of Women (membership compulsory for all persons 20 years of age or over). It was a considerable setback.

Despite post-war democratic reforms, the near monopoly on power of the conservative right (the LDP has been in government almost continuously since 1955) has hampered progress on gender equality, adding to the stagnation social and political attitudes.

Despite this, there have been signs of change in recent years. In January 2021, Akiko Matsuo, founder of feminist publisher Etc.books, opened Tokyo’s first feminist bookstore. In March 2019, Matsuo and feminist writer Minori Kitahara launched the Japanese #MeToo #WithYou movement, calling for demonstrations against the acquittal of four men accused of sexual assault.

Rapists acquitted

The Nagoya District Court had acquitted a man accused of repeatedly raping his daughter between the ages of 13 and 19, saying there was “a reasonable doubt that it was not impossible for her to resist”. The Shizuoka District Court had found another man not guilty of raping his 12- to 14-year-old daughter because her testimony was “unreliable.”

The Fukuoka District Court acquitted a middle manager of the rape of a colleague after getting her drunk on the grounds that he was unaware of her condition. And the Shizuoka District Court acquitted a man of raping a woman after beating her, saying he could not know that her failure to respond did not mean her consent.

The first three were finally sentenced on appeal, after the protests. Since then, the monthly protests known as the Flower Demos have become a forum for victims of rape and incest to speak out. As Kitahara explains, “Thanks to WithYou, we can finally hear and believe them. We just needed a safe space for them to talk. Now we have a place where everyone can tell their story and show solidarity. ”

The struggle of feminists to reduce Japan’s tolerance for sexual and domestic violence began decades ago, as sociologist Chizuko Ueno describes. The women’s movement fights against discrimination: an association formed in 1999 to “condemn the sexist remarks of the governor of Tokyo Shintaro Ishihara” and eliminate them from the public domain, classifies such comments of other public figures. In 2021, Yoshiro Mori, former prime minister of the LPD, and Mio Sugita, a member of the LDP Diet known for her anti-feminist and anti-LGBTQ remarks, who said the 2019 acquittals were justified because women lie to About sex tied for first place. aggression.

110,000 signatures in two days

Mori, who was the head of the organizing committee for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, sparked global outrage in February 2021 with remarks about “talkative women” extending meetings. A petition launched the next day calling for “appropriate sanctions” against him garnered 110,000 signatures in two days. A Kyodo poll found that 60% of Japanese people believe he should resign as chairman of the committee. A number of Olympic sponsors and celebrities have distanced themselves from his words, and more than a thousand volunteers have refused to help during the Olympics. Despite the support of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Mori was forced to resign, the first time that an LDP heavyweight had resigned due to sexist behavior.

On February 6, the Choose Life Project live streamed to YouTube a 2.5-hour forum titled “Don’t Be Silent,” hashtag (Japanese) #WomenWhoRefuseToKnowTheirPlace. Twenty-five writers, editors, NGO members and activists were invited to comment on Mori’s remarks, in particular his statements (less publicized abroad) that women were “competitive”: “When we raise our hands and when we talk, they probably think they should talk, too. ”He added that the committee included seven women, but“ luckily they all know how to behave. ”Participants agreed that the LDP was unable to ‘bring the change, and that it was time for them to speak up.

The younger generation is more open and more committed to issues such as the environment and work / family balance. Activist Tamaka Ogawa says she joined the women’s movement after receiving slurs, such as “dirty feminist” (kusofemi) —On a 2013 article defending working mothers.

This is a major problem in Japan, where the birth rate is falling, the population is aging, and many young people are in precarious and poorly paid jobs. Less than 3% of children were born out of wedlock in 2020, and the decision to marry still depends largely on a man’s ability to provide for the needs, although attitudes are starting to change.

The socio-economic structure of the post-war period forced women to choose between family and career. The M-curve showing women’s participation in the labor market – increasing with age, decreasing after marriage or childbirth, increasing again as children grow older – has shifted: now tendency to leave the labor market at age 30. from 25.

Since 1986, it has been illegal to force women to resign when they marry or have children (most companies once required women to sign a contract agreement). But still today, only 38% return to work after their first child, despite government campaigns since 2012 to promote a better work / family balance.

“Career” and “non-career” workers

In 1985, the Diet ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) and passed an Equal Employment Opportunity Act. But business leaders circumvented the legislation by inventing a two-track system with “career employees” (sogoshoku), who might be eligible for promotion, and “non-career employees” (ippanshoku), which could not. Women had to choose their path when hiring, but opting for a ‘career worker’ meant accepting long hours of work and frequent moves to provincial offices, like their male colleagues, making it difficult to balance work. and family life.

Only about 9% of middle managers in companies are women, and at the senior management level this figure is much lower. Government figures show that the pay gap between men and women fell from 40% in the 1990s to 24.5% in 2020 (against 16.5% in France). But this is due more to a drop in men’s wages over the past 20 years than to an increase in women’s wages. And women often hold precarious jobs (part-time, short-term, temporary, etc.) that earn less than 55% of the average salary of men, a trend that is accentuated.

This is in part due to two laws passed in 1986. The first introduced a personal allowance of 380,000 yen ($ 3,300) for one spouse’s income tax, provided that the other spouse’s earnings do not exceed 1.03 million yen ($ 9,000) – the type of salary that comes with part-time work, mostly affecting women. The other legalized temporary contracts, prohibited until then. Applying to 13 sectors in 1986, 26 from 1999 and all since 2015, this law mainly affected women and young people.

This highlights the government’s mixed messages on the place of women in society amid neoliberal reforms. In December 2012, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe presented the increased participation of women in the labor market as a key structural reform to revitalize the Japanese economy, saying he wanted to create “a society in which all women shine. “. Feminists remained skeptical. Although the LDP’s victory in last year’s election was a setback for Japanese women, with fewer female candidates elected than in 2017, the #MeToo movement is urging women to rally against sexism. But there is a long way to go.