Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on December 2011There can be no doubt that the rights of women have advanced dramatically in the last century, but neither can it be said that the genders have reached equality. According to the UN, women worldwide are paid less than men, do more household work, are critically underrepresented in decision-making bodies both public and private, and are more likely to be victims of violence.
While the gender disparity is generally lower in wealthier countries, Japan has lagged behind its counterparts on this issue. Says Sumire Hamada, a staff member at Asia-Japan Women’s Resource Center, “There is large gender inequality in Japan, especially in the areas of political and social decision-making, as well as economic activities. Women hold only around 10% of seats at the National Diet and earn about 60% [of what men make].”
Women are also encouraged to be economically dependent on men, through a social and legal system that privileges homemakers over working women, adds Hamada. “Neo-liberal economy reforms since the late 1980s have promoted non-regular employment, targeting women as a flexible labor force. As a result, 54.6% of the women compared to 20% of men now work as unstable, low-paid, non-regular workers.” This disparity means the poverty rates among single and widowed women are proportionately higher.
AJWRC, originally called the Asian Women’s Association, was founded in 1977 by a group of Japanese women with the narrow focus of protesting sex tours to neighboring Asian countries. From there, they expanded to other areas of concern for Asian women and finally took on a global feminist approach to fight for equality and social justice against all forms of discrimination and violence based on gender, sexuality, nationality, race, ethnicity, class, disparity, age, or disability.
The NGO tackles these issues through the three-pronged approach of networking, education and advocacy. They work with women’s organizations around the world, sharing information and ideas, and publish feminist journals in English and Japanese. The journals are also available through an exchange program with other organizations for periodicals and related materials, which has allowed them to build up an extensive library of information relevant to women’s issues that is available to the public.
As part of their advocacy plank, AJWRC conducts research and surveys and participates in international debates and campaigns, including consulting with the UN Economic and Social Council on Japan’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Offering seminars and workshops is another big part of what AJWRC does. They cover a broad range of topics from reproductive health and rights to gendered human security and will also work with interested parties to organize speakers according to their needs. Recently, they have teamed up with an American group called SAFER, or Students Active for Ending Rape, to offer a training workshop for building anti-assault movements. Younger members have also begun seminars with other young Japanese women to find out what their concerns are and educate them about the feminist movement.
While progress has been slow, Hamada sees this increased involvement among young people as a sign of hope. “Although there is persistent resistance against women’s rights in society and the government policy response for gender equality remains disappointingly ineffective, AJWRC keeps actively working, believing that sustainable social change is possible.”