Harassment rife in local assemblies

Until Tokyo attack, victims have suffered in silence


Staff Writer

The sexist taunting of a female politician during a recent session of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly drew rapid condemnation from some quarters, but little disbelief.

The problem is long-running and many victims tend to accept it and suffer in silence, some assembly members say.

Mitsuko Nishizaki, secretary-general of the Tokyo Seikatsusha Network political party, told The Japan Times that sneering, mockery and even overt sexual harassment is routine and often goes unreported.

In 2010, she said, a fellow assembly member shouted that Nishizaki “must enjoy being groped” when she voted against revising a youth ordinance to regulate extreme sexual images in manga and anime.

“It is difficult to address the jeers as an issue at the assembly meeting because you need to identify who made the remarks in order to initiate disciplinary measures,” Nishizaki said. “Unfortunately, I had to swallow my humiliation that time. There are many people like that.”

Yuki Mizuno, 31, a member of the Abiko Municipal Assembly in Chiba Prefecture, said fellow lawmakers had bullied and sexually harassed her on several occasions, with jeers such as, “You can’t get married.”

Mizuno also recalled being humiliated by a fellow female lawmaker. During a session in the assembly hall a year ago, the woman called out in a loud voice that she could see Mizuno’s underwear line and asked, “Are you menstruating today?”

“I’ve experienced pretty horrible bullying and sexual harassment and I think that there are many more cases,” said Mizuno, who lived in the U.S. as a child. “The treatment of women as inferior to men is still strong in Japan’s political world and I think that Japan has fallen way behind other countries.”

Nobuko Nakamura, a member of the Nakano Municipal Assembly in Tokyo, said on Twitter last week that she has been “told more than 100 times to quit as an assembly member and get married.”

“I think many female law-makers have had similar experiences and that’s why we must change the current state of politics,” Nakamura tweeted.

Liberal Democratic Party member Akihiro Suzuki admitted to some of the sexist sneering in the Tokyo assembly last week, and issued a public apology to the victim, Your Party lawmaker Ayaka Shiomura. The incident came at a time when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the LDP president, is pushing for greater inclusion of women in the workplace as a key part of his growth strategy.

“Even if the policy is to be implemented on a national level, it lacks credibility if the local members don’t have the same awareness. And if that’s the case, I think this growth strategy is just wishful thinking,” Mizuno said.

  • otisdelevator

    If this article is indicative of the way that Japanese men treat women, then I think there is no doubt that the real reason the population is in decline is because Japanese men are so thoroughly distasteful that Japanese women want nothing to do with them.

    Get your house in order ‘boys’!

    • Gordon Graham

      Says the gaijin staying at your house

    • Steve Jackman

      You make an excellent point. The percentage of Japanese women who don’t want to be in relationships or get married has been rising and is now quite high. I think a key reason for this is that many of these women just don’t find Japanese men attractive due to the the backward attitudes and lack of social skills of these men. This is the real elephant in the room, even though, mainstream media usually attributes Japan’s declining marriage and fertility rates to financial and workplace pressures. Having worked at Japanese companies here in Japan, I can vouch that everything in this article about the shameful treatment of women by men applies to the private sector as well. That’s why I’ve always felt that the recent hype about womenomics is such a farce.

    • phu

      That might be part of it. Another is likely that Japan is still in a bit of upheaval due to its belated women’s lib changes, part of which is significantly increased independence, irrespective of women’s general attitudes toward the men in their nation.

      Besides, you don’t need fewer couples to have a declining population. People can still date, live together, and/or get married and not have children. In many if not most developed countries it’s no longer realistic to raise a family and live well on a single income, which definitely impacts the number of people who choose to have kids.

    • Warren Lauzon

      LOL – “..Japanese men are so thoroughly distasteful that Japanese women want nothing to do with them..”.
      That might sound stupid, but I have actually had a couple of Japanese women tell me exactly the same thing. One told me that while alone with her ex-boyfriend, he was as nice as could be, but when with other men he became part of the “animal herd” as she put it.

  • http://www.sheldonthinks.com/ Andrew Sheldon

    There is a bigger issue here than disrespect for women and that is the failure of a political system based on extortion to actually engage in rational discourse. The implication is that a legislature is only as good as its constituency. Considering that values (like prices) are set at the margin; that’s a pretty low standard. It usually leaves radical parties vying with rational (libertarian) parties for votes and real libertarians wanting out of this system.

  • Hanten

    Although, our politicians are our leaders we can choose to elect them or not. Japan has voted for these people to represent them and continues to re-elect some of the most sexist dinosaurs I’ve ever seen. If they act in ways that are both unethical and illegal they need to be held accountable. They are leaders and they need to be leading. As Abe has called for greater participation in the workforce by women to help solve many of Japan’s economic woes, the rest of the politicians need to see what they can do to help with that.

    Sexually harassing one woman is bad enough and you might say it’s uncomfortable for her. Systematically sexually harassing many women and doing it in a public way you think is just more discomfort for more women but no big deal in the larger scheme of things. I am going to illustrate why that cannot be further from the truth. Allowing continued sexual harassment of female politicians tells Japan and the world that it’s business as usual here. Little respect for women in The Diet and other houses of parliament means fewer women will feel safe enough to go to work. Why? Because they will know that if sexual harassment can happen to an elected official in a public place with multiple witnesses and even video records and yet without repercussions for the offenders then what hope has the regular working got? The stress of working in an unsafe environment is unhealthy and lowers productivity. Secondly, if treating women with such illegal disrespect is condoned and continues, getting women to be paid their worth will be harder. It may be illegal in Japan to pay women less for the same work but it happens on a massive scale in almost every business in the country.

    Less working women as well as less women working productively will continue to affect the bottom line in businesses and the public sector all over Japan. With the low rate of workforce participation in Japan, the government is missing out on billions of yen in income tax. With women earning less money, businesses are missing out on billions of yen that women could be spending. With women earning less, the government is missing out on billions of yen in sales tax. More significantly, allowing women to be devalued means they’re less able to work and work well. The whole country is missing out on what women are truly capable of.

  • Daniel Francis

    Blame the electorate for voting in such degenerates. Remember, in a Democracy every elected member must have had some woman supporters.