U.S. ‘matahara’ activist calls U.S. award ‘encouragement’ to working women, says more must be done

Kyodo, Staff Report

A Japanese recipient of a U.S. government award for contributions to women’s empowerment said that while the honor was “encouragement to all working women in Japan,” more needed to be done in the country.

Sayaka Osakabe, 37, was commended by the U.S. State Department for her fight against “maternity harassment” (matahara), or unfair treatment of pregnant working women, as head of the Matahara Net support group.

Speaking after a ceremony at the State Department on Friday, she said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s policy of promoting the empowerment of women has given momentum to her work in Japan, a nation often criticized for being more male-dominated than other industrialized economies. She suggested, however, that some projects aimed at helping working women and promoting them remain based on men’s viewpoints.

“It is important that not only a handful of women shine but that all women will be able to work as a matter of course,” she said.

Osakabe’s work led to last year’s landmark Supreme Court ruling that said demotion due to pregnancy is illegal in principle, the State Department said.

Osakabe was harassed and pressured to resign from her job after becoming pregnant and suffered two stress-related miscarriages.