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"DAWN" Newsletter of The DAWN CENTER

Working Environment
and Social System Regarding Women in Japan
Emiko Takenaka
Dawn Center Executive Director

1. The changes in legal systems concerning working women
In Japan, the Labor Standard Law (enacted in 1947) stipulates equal pay for work of equal value, and regulates the protection of women's reproductive health, including menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth and childrearing. However, with stereotyped gender roles allocating market (paid work) to men, and home and community (unpaid work) to women, women's right to work is limited in various ways. Japan is lagging far behind in terms of gender equality.

In 2000, women accounted for 40% of the total workforce (Statistics Bureau, Ministry of Public Management, Labor Force Survey). The ratio of women employees according to their ages shows an M shaped curve (see page 4), which reflects the difficulty for women to continue working while their children are small. In 1986, the Equal Employment Opportunity Law (hereinafter referred to as EEOL) was enacted, and opened up career courses for women, but the ratio of women on the main career track accounted for only 3.5%. (Japan Institute of Workers' Evolution, Changing Characteristics of Japan's Female Workforce, 2000). As for women in the managerial track, those in general manager posts were 1.6%, those in section chief posts were 2.6%, and those in assistant manager posts made up 7.7% of the total workforce (Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, Survey on Women Workers' Employment Management, 2000).

The wage gap between men and women is remarkable; women whose annual income is below 3 million yen consist of about 63% of the total female paid workers, while the percentage for men is 16 percent. Women with 7 million in annual income or above make up only 3%; men 24% (Gender Equality Bureau, Cabinet Office, White Paper on Gender Equality, 2000). Nonregular employees (contracted staff, part-timers, temporary workers, loaned workers, temps, and so on) account for as much as 47% of the female workforce, compared to 14.9% for men (1999). As to wage differentials between men and women (including regular part-timers), women receive about 50.1% of their male counterparts' wages (Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry, Basic Statistical Survey on Wage Structure, 1999). The recent instability in the labor market has served to widen these gaps.

The revision of EEOL in 1997 (enforced in April, 1999) accelerated the legal backup of equal employment. (1) However, as the prohibition of job discrimination against women was limited, the intended reform to eliminate the separation of work between men and women by mutually sharing jobs was advanced only halfway. In addition, the discrimination at issue was about recruiting conditions, so setting different conditions cast a veil over most of the discrimination.

It was when the Basic Law for a Gender-equal Society was enacted in June, 1999 and the Framework for the Policy of Basic Law for a Gender-equal Society was approved by the Cabinet in December, 2000 that Japanese women stood on the threshold of substantial equality in addition to equal opportunity. The Basic Law for a Gender-equal Society sets its goal of "formation of a gender-equal society where both women and men shall be given equal opportunities to participate voluntarily in activities in all fields as equal partners in the society, and shall be able to enjoy political, economic, social and cultural benefits equally as well as to share responsibilities." It carries five basic principles (see Chart 1), and states clearly that positive actions should be taken in carrying out the plan. It is noticeable that in this framework three tasks are aimed at the construction of a socioeconomic system free from gender bias.

The comprehensive law for gender equality has finally paved the way for the system in which national machinery will promote a gender-equal society by checking every policy from every ministry through a gender-equal perspective.
Chart 1:Framework for the policy of Basic Law for a Gender-equal Society

The Basic Principles
1. Respect for the human rights of women and men
2. Consideration to social systems or practices
3. Joint participation in planning and deciding policies,etc.
4. Compatibility of activities in family life and other activities
5. International cooperation

The Basic Principles
The State
Responsibility for the comprehensive formulation and implementation of policies related to promotion of a Gender-equal Society (including positive action) pursuant to the basic principles
Local Governments
Responsibility for the formulation and implementation of policies corresponding to national measures,and other policies in accordance with the nature of the area of local governments
Making efforts to contribute to formation of a Gender-equal Society,including workplaces, schools,the local community and the home

Provisions that form the basis of policies
  • Basic plans for gender equality
  • Prefectural plans for gender equality,etc.
  • Municipal plans for gender equality
  • Legislative or financial measures
  • Annual reports,etc.
  • Considerations in formulation of policies,etc.
  • Measures to increase understanding of citizens
  • Handling complaints,etc.
  • Study and research
  • Measures for international cooperation
  • Support for local governments and private bodies

Formation of a Gender-equal Society
A Gender-equal Society:A society where both women and men shall be given equal opportunities to participate voluntarily in activitiesin all fields as equal partners in the society,and shall be able to enjoy political,economic,social and cultural benefits equally as well as to share responsibilities.

2. Toward a gender-equal society
There still exists, however, an extreme gender bias between paid work and unpaid work in Japan. Women take 89.3% of housework, childcare, family care and social activities upon themselves, while men carry only 10.7% (see Chart 2). While the Japanese management style has remained unchanged and depends on stereotypical sex roles, work style has become more diverse and more fluid. As a result, the diversity in women's employment since the enforcement of EEOL brought about instability as well.

The revision of the Labor Standard Law in 1998 (enforced in April, 1999) abolished some of the items that had protected women, equalizing female workers' holidays and late-night labor with those of men, and limiting overtime work up to 360 hours per year for both women and men.(2) In 1991, the Childcare Leave Law target for both mothers and fathers was enacted, but only 0.42% of fathers made use of the system in fiscal 1999 (Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, Survey on Women Workers' Employment Management, 1999).

Japan ratified the ILO article 156 "Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention" in 1995, and introduced the family care leave system into the Childcare Leave Law. Nevertheless, there still remains biased assumption that women should be responsible for taking care of families. If the working hours standard becomes more ambiguous, the shackles of family responsibilities will not only deny women the right to have access to equal paid work, but will also deprive them of the time for life reproduction essential to both women and men.

If we are to create a gender-equal society, we need to establish a system and policies to provide the right to work (equal treatment) to every woman and man as an individual, instead of regarding the male breadwinner model as a social standard, which includes the shift from a family-unit tax and social security system to an individual system. To begin with, we need to establish a system to equally regulate working hours so that women and men may share responsibilities and authority together at home, in the workplace, and in communities as well. That is, by growing out of two-way thinking of "cutting short working hours to secure leisure time," we must establish a standard applicable equally to women and men, and lay emphasis on a "housework, leisure, and worktime" trichotomy as a key point in the movement to cut short working hours. At the same time, in order to prevent gender-bias in the fields of both paid and unpaid work, we must promote investment in social services for childcare and family care, fulfillment of a social security system with paid childcare or family care leave, and social investment in vocational training which enables women to have access to paid work. It is also desirable to enforce legal regulations toward equal opportunity and equal treatment, and review the "Part-Time Labor Law" for the purpose of equal treatment of part-timers and full-timers, including the ratification of ILO article 170 "Part-Time Labor Convention."

The true establishment of women's right to work will not be attained without a radical reform of the present social system by coordinating labor and family policies.

That also will be the way for both women and men to truly improve their quality of life.
(1) Revision of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law
The revision of the law, approved by the Diet in 1997, has seven major revisions:
  1. Job discrimination toward women is prohibited.
  2. Actions which limit job positions and cause separation between women and men in the workplace must be abolished.
  3. Names of companies which violate this revised law will be publicized.
  4. Companies must take responsibility for sexual harassment in the workplace.
  5. Companies must provide sufficient time for female workers for health examinations during pregnancy and after childbirth. Also, in the case of multiple birth (e.g. twins, triplets) longer pre-childbirth leave must be given.
  6. In the Labor Standard Law, some of the items which concerned female workers' holidays and late-night labor were abolished.
  7. The right of holiday/late-night labor was created in order to protect female workers who provide childcare or other care for family members
  The revision of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law made it further clear that companies' employment management should judge female workers depending only on eagerness, ability and aptitude. The next challenge will be how quickly companies can carry out the proper employment management changes in accordance with this revised law.
(Adapted from "The Situation of Working Women in Japan" by Japan Institute of Workers Evolution) (url: http://www.jiwe.or.jp)

(2) When female workers in charge of childcare and family care request it, overtime work is limited to 150 hours a year. Additionally, the revised Childcare and Family Care Leave Law limits late-night work by those who care for children under school age or the elderly.

(1) Survey participants were15 years of age or above.
(2) Those enrolled in school were excluded from the category "unemployed."
(3) Labor type I refers to paid work hours (work) and commuting time
(including the commuting hours of those who go to school while working).
Labor type II refers to housework, nursing care, childcare, shopping, social activities (unpaid work).

Public Management Ministry, Survey on social life,1998.

Emiko Takenaka
Newly inaugurated Executive Director of the Dawn Center.
She specializes in "labor economy" and "gender." She is a professor at Ryukoku University, and an emeritus professor at Osaka City University.

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