Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent denial that the Imperial Japanese Army coerced women into sexual slavery during the 1930s and 1940s overshadowed an International Women’s Day forum at the United Nation’s University in Shibuya Ward.
Andrew Horvat, a visiting scholar at International Center for the Study of Historical Reconciliation at Tokyo Keizai University, told the audience on Thursday the government’s reaction was troubling.
“What is frightening is, Abe’s questioning of incontrovertible evidence (about the coercion) places these Japanese leaders in very unusual company — the company of people in Europe who are asking for evidence of the Holocaust,” Horvat said.
Speakers blamed gender inequality in part on the government’s ignorance about the issues and its reluctance to correct the problems in society.
Most panelists were reluctant to speak about the sex slave issue.
However, Momoyo Ise, a board member of the United Nations Association of Japan, alluded to it, saying that sex-trafficking was a growing problem in Japan because political leaders did not understand the issues of the past.
“Violence and discrimination against women have a long-standing place in our society,” Ise said. “The reason we cannot advance as a nation is because our leaders and government officials lack the basic understanding of human rights and values.”
Mariko Bando, former director general of the Cabinet Office’s Gender Equality Bureau, said Japan was not progressing fast enough.
She said women make up just 9 percent of the Diet ranks while Scandinavian countries have 40 percent in their legislatures.
“Yes, we have passed new laws ensuring that the rights of women are protected,” Banda said. “But if you compare the rate at which Japanese women are holding managerial positions in comparison to other countries, it is evident that we are moving at an unacceptable pace.”