A government study has found that nearly a third of working women who responded to a survey reported being sexually harassed on the job, such as being subjected to unwanted physical contact or degrading comments.
The study, released Tuesday and the first of its kind, examined responses from more than 9,600 women employees, submitted by mail or online. The response rate was 18 percent. It did not give a margin of error.
Of the respondents, 29 percent said they had suffered sexual harassment. The most common type of harassment was having their appearance or age become the focus of conversation, at 54 percent.
The next most common was unwanted touching at 40 percent, followed by sexually related questions at 38 percent. Twenty-seven percent were asked out for meals and dates.
More than 63 percent said they kept quiet, although they were reluctant to do so. The survey did not cite their reasons for staying silent.
And about one in 10 who did complain, however, said they were treated unfairly for speaking up. Penalties they suffered included being demoted.
Japan trails much of the world in achieving gender equality, ranking 101st among 145 nations and economies in the World Economic Forum’s study on the “gender gap,” which measures how fairly women are treated based on economic, educational, health-based and political indicators.
Although Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made encouraging women to work and get promoted a pillar of his policies, progress has been gradual.
Economists have said for years that Japan needs to make better use of its well-educated but underemployed women. This, they say, could go a long way toward plugging the country’s labor shortage.
One big reason behind that effort is that this nation’s society is aging and the workforce is rapidly shrinking. Women now occupy about 8 percent of leadership positions in companies hiring 100 people or more.
Tuesday’s study did not propose any specific measures for how the situation could be fixed, such as stiffer penalties for harassment or discrimination.
In many companies, women are placed on a different career track from men. They often have part-time jobs, partly because many men rarely help out with housework.
The “M-curve” in employment that used to be so pronounced in the West for women some years ago, in which they drop out of the workforce to have children then rejoin later, is still prominent in Japan.
The study also found many complaints of “maternity harassment,” in which women were bullied into quitting their jobs when they became pregnant, or were targeted with suggestions they do so.
In speech after speech, Abe has urged the country to open up to “womenomics,” encouraging some of Japan’s biggest firms — including Toyota, Panasonic and All Nippon Airways — to announce targets for boosting the number of female executives.
While women are widely represented in poorly-paid, part-time work, only a fraction of executives at 3,600 listed companies are female.