Updated: May 12
July 7, 2021
Misato Sasaki and Miyabi Oyamada
“Women are at the top of the list of diversity in Japan, but it feels strange,” says Professor Keiko Takegawa. What should we do to build a diverse society in Japan? Let's hear the voice of the leading person to overcome the big gender gap in Japan.
Meaning of "Diversity" in Japan
When people talk about “diversity,” each country has a different view of it. In some countires, For example, diversity often means to promote the inclusion of LGBTq, people with disabilities, foreigners, nationalities, religions, cultures, and ethnic groups. In Japan, however, people often pick up the inequality issue between men and women.
To fill the gap between genders, there is the Gender Equality Bureau in the Japanese central government. In the Japanese language, this bureau is officially called Danjo Kyodo Sankaku-kyoku, literally meaning “promotion bureau of joint participation by men and women.” They exist for a prosperous society in which both women and men respect their human rights, share joy, responsibility and fully demonstrate their individuality and abilities regardless of gender.
The Basic Act for Gender Equality was enacted in 1999. In this law, the basic principles for the formation of a gender equality society are (1) respect for the human rights of men and women, (2) consideration for systems or practices in society, and (3) policy planning and decisions. It advocates joint participation of both genders by (4) balancing activities in family life with other activities, and through (5) international cooperation, followed by the responsibilities of the national government, local governments, and the people.
Action to Change Japanese Stereotypes
In Japan, the way of thinking that housework is a women’s job remains persistent. According to statistics, mothers spend five times as much time on housework and childcare as men in Japan. In Europe and the United States, mothers spend twice as men. Everywhere, women spend more time doing household chores than men.
This issue is actually taken up in the Sustainable Development Goals. In target 5.4, it says “Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate,” with the indicator of “proportion of time spent on unpaid domestic and care work, by sex, age and location.” It states that it is recognized as “unpaid work”, the time spent on housework is quantified, and it is evaluated if it is shared equally between men and women. The indicator shows the extremely bad situation of Japan at the moment (see graph. 1) .
Another survey showed that American husbands spent about 2.3 times more time on household matters than the Japanese husbands, which was more shorter than childcare time. (see graph. 2)To solve this problem, the government cooperated with local governments to carry out the “Otohan Campaign,” aiming for getting fathers to cook. The campaign name consists of father and meal in Japanese language.
As every prefecture has a gender equality promotion section, they hold cooking events or the menu idea contests for fathers. The merit of this activity is to make fathers actually commit to houseworks through cooking, and contribute to stop the sharp decline of birth rate by sharing the housework burden. As for mayors, it can be a good election campaign by attracting voters of the next generation. “It is important for the couple to share the housework,” says Professor Takegawa. “When it comes to household care, in Japan, there is a tendency for companies to make policies targeting women who are responsible for the care of children and the elderly, but the idea that women are responsible for household matters is already wrong. It is imperative that all humans take responsibility for care, not just one person.”
Time to Blaze a Trail
“Gaining broad sympathy is very important to promote gender equality,” says Takegawa. “The women’s suffrage in Britain in 1918 became successful by the sensation caused by a shocking sacrifice of women. Before the sacrifice, few media reported about the suffragettes. It is fortunate for us that tragic sacrifice is no more needed to inform our opinion to the public. Recently, SNS has made it easier to share opinions, and to have open discussions. In the past, victims of sex crimes tended to be silent, but nowadays, they tried to change the world by publicizing the issue, as shown by the 2017 "Me too” movement. Victims, from celebrities to the general public, centered on Twitter, started to unite to change the world. Users can say their opinions freely. It is one step that leads to a diverse society to create various systems through the anonymous open discussions. I hope all responsible members of the society to sympathize and to join in and create the new structure of society.”
All Different and All Wonderful
According to Takegawa, Japan is mostly discussing the differences between men and women only, but the future goal is a society that accepts various differences beyond gender barriers. Probably, Japan's experience of overcoming various challenges for equality between genders might be useful for building real diversity. Everyone has different values and ideas. “By making the best use of them, it will lead to the realization of a society that could not be imagined until now,” concluded Takegawa.
Keiko Takegawa was brought up in Kagawa Prefecture in Japan. After graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tokyo, she entered the Prime Minister's Office in 1981. She obtained the a master of business administration from the Duke University. In 2009, she was appointed to the Deputy Director-General, Policies on Cohesive Society and Gender Equality Bureau of the Cabinet Office, and in 2014, to the director of Gender Equality Bureau. She has assumed the professorship at Showa Women’s University starting at 2019.