Japan got a little better last year in gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum: It moved up in the rankings to 94th place out of 134 countries, from 101st in 2009.
And bit by bit Japanese men are doing more at home, things like taking child-rearing leave and making dinner for their wives.
But Japan still lags far behind Europe and the United States and women have the power to change that, says Caroline Pover, who has worked for more than a decade to help make the lives of foreign women in Japan easier and better. She spoke with The Japan Times ahead of International Women’s Day, which was celebrated Tuesday.
Pover launched Being A Broad, a monthly community magazine, in 1997 to provide useful information to English-speaking women living in Japan. Today, BAB has a website where foreign women can network and support each other. Some 4,000 people are on its mailing list.
For her achievements, Pover was awarded the inaugural British Business Award for Best Entrepreneur at the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan’s 60th anniversary in 2008. And last week she received the International Women’s Day Outstanding Service Award by the U.S.-based Women’s Information Network.
“I think the best thing we can do for women in the next generation is to give them good men, by teaching our sons, nephews and male students how to be supportive partners, respectful colleagues and fully involved partners,” says Pover, a 39-year-old former elementary school teacher who describers herself now as an author, publisher, speaker and consultant.
Back in 1996, Pover arrived in Tokyo with a tourist visa, just to have a bit of adventure in a country that she knew very little about. Without any plan, she came to Japan to see what would happen.
After going through a difficult phase for the first few months, adapting to a different culture, she developed a bond and a network of friends. She now calls Japan her home.
It was to help ease this transition for other foreign women that Pover launched the BAB community magazine, providing information that women want and to support them in building an English-speaking women’s network in Japan.
“I noticed when foreign women got together, there was this urge to talk and share information, and to get their feelings out about living in Japan,” Pover says. “It’s important to get out and talk about their experiences with other foreign women who can understand.”
Through the BAB website, foreign women can seek support, find networks and share their feelings. Pover also holds numerous events to bring English-speaking women together.
Recalling how it took her about a year to make a good friend in Japan, she said networking in foreign countries can be difficult, especially for women without children who came to Japan because of their husband’s work. They don’t go to an office where they can make friends or meet other mothers through school activities.
“The biggest issue then, and actually still the biggest issue now, for foreign women living in Japan is isolation,” Pover says. “It doesn’t matter what kind of situation you find yourself in Japan, you feel very isolated.”
To create a useful guidebook for Western women, Pover interviewed some 200 foreign women in 1999. Based on their real-life experiences in Japan, Pover penned “Being A Broad in Japan” in 2001.
Packed with practical information — ranging from finding English-speaking doctors and good hairdressers who know how to handle a Westerner’s hair to banking information and where to buy clothes that fit their shape — the guidebook has sold nearly 10,000 copies so far and is considered a must-have for foreign women new to Japan.
Pover also published “Guide to International Schools in Japan” in 2009 to help parents choose a school for their children.
Now she is working on another book, this time to help Japanese men deepen their understanding of what women think.
Based on interviews with 150 foreign women in February, Pover is writing about “Japanese men and their love lives with Western women,” which should be published within the next few months and will be in Japanese.
Although Pover didn’t reveal the book’s exact content, she says the topics will range from dating, marriage and divorce to raising kids, and everything about their romantic relationships with Japanese men.
Pover, who is married to a British man, believes both Japanese and Western women want supportive relationships with partners who respect them.
“Hopefully, if (Japanese men) learn what foreign women think, then they learn more about Japanese women. Because foreign women and Japanese women, we basically want the same things for our careers and our personal lives,” she says. “It’s just that we, the foreign women, are a bit louder about it.”