A documentary film about an American woman’s struggle to achieve gender equality in postwar Japan, sponsored and made by Japanese women, is set to be released next April.
“The Gift from Beate” features Beate Sirota Gordon, who drew up Article 24 of the Constitution — which stipulates the basic equality of the sexes — as a civilian member of the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces in 1946.
It also focuses on “how Japanese women have made use of Article 24, bestowed by Ms. Beate, to achieve equality at home and in the workplace,” said Tomoko Fujiwara, who directed the film after several prominent women, including former education minister Ryoko Akamatsu, raised the money for it.
The film will initially be released in Tokyo, and eventually nationwide on the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.
An English version of the film will be completed soon, with the aim of screenings at overseas film festivals. “We hope to show internationally how gender equality has been realized in modern Japan,” Fujiwara said.
Born in 1923 in Vienna as the only daughter of pianist Leo Sirota and his wife, Augustine, Beate moved to Tokyo at age 5 when her father started a 17-year career as a professor at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music.
After acquiring U.S. citizenship and completing college in the United States, she returned to Japan to join her parents, who had been caught up in evacuations during the war, in December 1945.
As a GHQ staffer, she was assigned to compile a constitutional draft on human rights, particularly concerning women, which eventually resulted in Article 24.
“A married woman was designated as an incompetent person before and during the war, and was not guaranteed even property rights. Ms. Beate knew this from her own experiences since her childhood,” Fujiwara said.
Backed by Article 24, Japanese women’s status has gradually advanced, with some obtaining senior posts in government ministries and major companies, while others have successfully fought with their employers to get pay and promotion equal to that of their male colleagues.
It has gradually become possible for women to maintain their posts even after marriage and childbearing, while homemaking courses, which were compulsory only for female students, have now become common also for males, according to the film.
Article 24 stipulates, “Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.”
It also says, “With regard to choice of spouse, property rights, inheritance, choice of domicile, divorce and other matters pertaining to marriage and the family, laws shall be enacted from the standpoint of individual dignity and the essential equality of the sexes.”
Fujiwara, however, finished shooting the film as pressure to revise Article 24 has grown, after a Constitution revision panel of the Liberal Democratic Party proposed in June revising the article “from the viewpoint of stressing the value of family and community.”
“We are concerned that ‘individualism’ has been distorted as ‘egoism’ in postwar Japan, leading to the collapse of family and community,” the panel said in its report.
Tetsuya Takahashi, a professor at the University of Tokyo, said, “Those who aim at revising Article 24 apparently believe women’s social advancement has led to the breakdown of the family and that it has brought about the recent downward trend in the birthrate and moral degeneration.
“By attacking individual dignity, the fundamental value of postwar democracy in Japan, they claim they should establish a Constitution representing Japan’s own traditional national character.”
Takahashi is concerned about reactionary tendencies in Japan. “I never imagined Article 24 would be targeted in the 21st century,” he said.
The LDP panel’s proposal has prompted 15 women’s groups to launch a nationwide campaign to keep the article.
“The recent move by the governing party shows the social trend toward reducing women’s rights. We need to curb it,” said Hisako Motoyama, the campaign organizer.
Under the campaign, also supported by 40 other groups, the organizers plan to release leaflets and hold public meetings to support maintaining the constitutional provision of gender equality, according to Motoyama, who is also a member of the Asia-Japan Women’s Resource Center.
Fujiwara shared the concerns of Takahashi and Motoyama, saying, “I realized that the war-renouncing Article 9 has faced growing pressure for amendment, but I never thought Article 24 would also be targeted for revision.
“I want to show in the film how Article 24 has supported Japanese women, so I want to say about the move to revise it, ‘You must be joking!’ ” she added.
On Article 9, Beate Sirota Gordon, who visits Japan regularly, said in the movie, “I agree with the idea that the Japanese Constitution is a result of the wisdom of history, and I expect all other nations in the world to follow the ideal depicted in the war-renouncing provision, although struggles over races and creeds have been intensified worldwide.”
She concluded the movie by saying, “The status of Japanese women has been promoted, compared with that before and during the war, but I think it will take more time for them to completely exercise their constitutional rights.”