Being a woman in Japan often comes with a variety of challenges, but when you are a woman with disabilities here, the scale of hardships you must endure can be overwhelming.
A recent survey conducted by an all-women sub-group of the Japan chapter of the 30-year-old international non-governmental organization Disabilities Peoples’ International (DPI-Japan) highlights the horrendous realities surrounding women with disabilities, including sexual and verbal abuse in their homes and at workplaces, hospitals and other care facilities.
The group’s report, titled “Shogaino Arujosei no Seikatsu no Konnan: Fukugo Sabetsu Jittai Chosa Hokokusho” (“Difficulties in the Lives of Women with Disabilities: A Report on Multiple Discriminations”) is arguably the first attempt in Japan to make the issues “visible,” members of the DPI said during a meeting in Tokyo on June 13, noting that, due to privacy concerns and the nature of the complaints, it has long been very difficult to quantify or categorize the kinds of discrimination and human-rights abuses these women have experienced.
“Our survey has shown that women with disabilities have been deprived of reasonable considerations, and are more disadvantaged than non-disabled women or disabled men,” said DPI member Tomoko Yonezu.
The report, based on interviews and questionnaires conducted last year with 87 women across Japan, has broken the types of complaints down to 15 categories.
Of the respondents, 35 percent said they had suffered some form of sexual victimization in their lives. A blind masseur in her 40s, for example, recounted being molested by her male boss at work. A physically disabled woman in her 30s said she was sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend, while several women with mental and physical disabilities described being groped on trains or being stalked by men.
Many victims kept the incidents to themselves, because the culprits were often close family members or people they received care from at welfare facilities or hospitals, according to the report.
“They (the women) find it hard to avoid the incidents or protest them, as they are often dependent on the support of the culprits,” the report says.
“Because of their disabilities, many of them cannot escape. They don’t have the physical strength to resist. Many culprits take advantage of the women’s disabilities and their weaknesses — such as the lack of their ability to identify the perpetrators through voices or faces, and their inability to be self-reliant.”
In addition to sexual incidents, disabled women report they have been severely hurt by insensitive comments and discriminatory attitudes that abound in this society. Universal toilets are often available only for men. A physically disabled woman recalled being forced to get help from male workers when she was hospitalized and wanted to take a bath and change sanitary pads. Some pregnant women with disabilities were told to abort their children by their families and doctors, and others were asked by their doctors to take prenatal tests.
“The sexual and reproductive rights of disabled women are being threatened,” Yonezu said, noting that until as recently as 1996, doctors in Japan were allowed by law to sterilize women with disabilities without their consent.
Satomi Morisaki, a mother of two from Hyogo Prefecture who is the plaintiff in an ongoing civil suit against her former employer, who fired her in March, told the meeting that she has been constantly discriminated against, long before she filed a suit over repeated rapes she alleged by a former boss at JR West (West Japan Railway Company).
Morisaki suffered cerebral palsy at birth and has lived with involuntary limb movements. “When I married a man at the age of 22, I was told by my in-laws that our marriage was an embarrassment to their relatives,” Morisaki recalled. “And when I became pregnant, I could not find a hospital to give birth at until the fetus was seven months old — because doctors refused to assist the birth for fear of risks.
“My neighbors gossiped that I was giving birth so my child could take care of me later. I was even told, ‘It’s great news for your mother. She will no longer have to take care of you.’ “
After they divorced, Morisaki looked for a job, but she was rejected by nearly 100 companies she applied to, despite the fact that many of them were legally obligated to employ people with disabilities.
At job interviews, she said, officials of companies she applied to would sometimes make remarks such as “We don’t need disabled employees,” and “If you were at least a man … “
While the government is working on creating a law that specifically bans discrimination against people with disabilities, the DPI group members asked that any new laws or government policies in support of people with disability should aim at eliminating the gender disparity among them — and that the women themselves be involved in drafting of such laws or policies.
The group also asked that government statistics and surveys on disability should break down the data and results by gender.
Takashi Miyamoto, an official at the Cabinet Office’s Gender Equality Bureau who attended the June 13 meeting, said he was “shocked” by the depth of the DPI survey.
“I was impressed by the fact that they interviewed so many women and by the great efforts involved in compiling the report,” he said.
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