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The following entries were submitted by students from The American School in Tokyo.

Patriarchy and the ‘pink tax’

Japan is often viewed as progressive, especially in male-dominated fields such as technology. Yet regrettably, thoughts toward issues regarding period poverty and “pink tax” are not so forward-thinking.

The pink tax, an upcharge on products and services that cater specifically to women, can then be added to the 28% difference in male and female pay in Japan, according to the Wall Street Journal. Consequently, period poverty (the lack of access to sanitary products) can occur due to financial constraints.

Japan’s modern-day patriarchal society has in many ways shaped views on menstruation. While being a natural occurrence for half of the population, menstruation is often disregarded and considered a taboo subject matter to bring up. Meanwhile, a group called Minna no Seiri conducted a survey of young women that found 1 in 5 had problems accessing sanitary products.

Nowhere are these problems being felt more than among single, unemployed mothers. In October 2019, the government raised the consumption tax to 10% for non-necessities such as alcohol and dining. Among those, we find menstrual products. This means, even in this magnificent innovative country, menstruation and sanitary products are regarded as non-necessities. However, menstruation is a natural process that women must experience to be in full functioning health.

The first step towards resolving this issue would be to recategorize sanitary products as necessities. Additionally, it would benefit the Japanese government to follow countries like Scotland and New Zealand, where sanitary necessities are reportedly free on school campuses and other public spaces.

While the overarching societal discrimination against women, especially when it comes to menstruation, needs to be solved; there are tangible movements the government can enact to improve situations of period poverty in Japan.

—Coco Colwell, Tokyo

A seat at the table

No. 147. That is where Japan places in terms of political empowerment for women — out of the 156 countries included in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. Additionally, the Inter-Parliamentary Union states that only 9.9% of the Diet’s lower house members are women.

For a highly developed country with a democratic system, Japan still faces many issues of inequities regarding gender and women in society, especially in the political field. In the recent contest to replace Yoshihide Suga as head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, two out of the four eligible candidates were female, showing improvement in Japan’s attempt to bring more women into the halls of power. However, even with these attempts, the power that women hold within these positions is still notably inferior to their male counterparts.

One way to secure female representation within the Japanese government would be to introduce a gender quota system, which would secure between 20% and 50% of parliamentary seats for women. There are already successful cases of these quota systems being implemented, such as in Sweden where 50% of the government’s cabinet is made up of women according to the New York Times.

Additionally, educational institutions should strive to empower girls from a younger age and help students develop a better understanding of Japanese politics before entering society. Because Japan lacks female representation, there are not enough opportunities for female-centered issues such as child care and sexual abuse to rise up in the political discourse, resulting in effective policies. By bringing in more female voices, these issues are more likely to be addressed.

We need more women to be in positions of power, and the way to create an environment where more women feel empowered to take these leadership positions starts with having their voices heard within the Japanese government.

—Sarah Fujishima, Tokyo

Diversity wins

In Japan, research conducted by McKinsey & Company has shown that women in the workforce are well above the global average of 40%. However, the percentage of women in management positions in Japan is well below the worldwide average of 23%, and far from the goal that the Japanese government implemented of 30%.

Today, Japan’s percentage of women in management positions is a concerning low of 15%. Increasing the percentage of women in management positions will help with the national economy. Studies have shown there is a high correlation between having both male and female leaders and corporate performance. In McKinsey’s “Diversity Wins” report, released last year, the firm states that companies in the top quartile of their industry on gender diversity were more likely to have an above-average financial performance by nine percentage points over their bottom-quartile peers. Moreover, achieving greater gender equality has also proven to boost gross domestic product by about 6%.

In addition, by introducing more women into management positions, corporations will gain different aspects and points of view, allowing teams to have a more creative and innovative company. Some critics may argue that child care leave and remote work are the main reasons why not many women are in management roles. However, according to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare in 2019, 99% of companies with 500 or more employees offer childcare leave. Also, more than 47% of companies with 1,000 or more employees have the option of working remotely.

To help encourage a rise in women in leadership positions, as a community we should educate management on the importance of gender diversity, set goals for male-to-female ratios in management, and highlight current female leaders as role models.

—Ellie Reilly, Tokyo

Taking child care seriously

Japan is a beautiful country, thriving on culture and hardworking people. It has many failures, however, and one of the most disappointing of these is how women are treated

In the workplace, a disproportionate amount of women face abuse and harassment for taking maternity leave, and prioritizing their families over their work, even though society expects them to be mothers and raise a family. According to a recent study by pubmed.gov, 24.8% of the pregnant employees in Japan that they surveyed said they had experienced maternity harassment in the workplace. Those 24.8% were significantly more likely to have depression than those who had not been harassed.

A 2018 article by Matthew Hernon for Tokyo Weekender included interviews from several women who discussed the harassment they experienced from the companies they worked for. One woman suffered multiple miscarriages while employed and was not allowed to take maternity leave. Another was fired after she gave birth. The article also highlighted examples of men who were fired or denied paid time off, despite Japan’s 12-month paternity leave law.

Some might argue that women receive enough benefits to support them during and after their pregnancy. However, the countless women who have suffered and continue to suffer from maternity harassment prove that the requirements for maternity leave are not enough. Japan needs deliberate action to scrutinize current policies regarding family leave and to implement more comprehensive programs in the workplace.

Preventing maternity or paternity harassment in the workplace will enhance the mental health and well-being of parents. Also, it allows them time away from work to care for children during one of their most crucial stages of development, thus strengthening families.

—Vivian Seals, Tokyo

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