With バレンタインデー (barentain dē, Valentine’s Day) taking place on Feb. 14 and ホワイトデー (howaito dē, White Day) coming on March 14, it would seem that women get a lot of attention at this time of year. In the middle of those two chocolatey holidays, however, is 国際女性デー (kokusai josei dē, International Women’s Day), on March 8, perhaps the most important day among the three.

With an ever-widening gender gap, it’s clear Japan needs to pay more attention to the situation women face in this country, which has a current ranking on the Global Gender Gap Index of 125th out of 146 countries. Issues that have grabbed the headlines recently include 選択的夫婦別姓 (sentaku-teki fūfu bessei), or optional separate surnames for married couples; better access to 緊急避妊薬 (kinkyū hininyaku), which are emergency contraceptives or so-called morning after pills; and the 男女の賃金格差 (danjo no chingin kakusa, pay gap between men and women). この国では女性の生きづらさが今なお十分に対処されていません (Kono kuni dewa josei no ikizurasa ga imanao jūbun ni taisho sarete-imasen, The difficulties in women’s lives have yet to be addressed adequately in this country).

When speaking with people about these topics, one word that may pop up frequently is “difference.” You may be familiar with the word 違い (chigai, difference), which is derived from the verb 違う (chigau, to be different). It’s usually used in sentences that point out differences with regard to your senses: お互いの価値観の違いを理解する事が大切です (O-tagai no kachikan no chigai o rikai suru koto ga taisetsu desu, It’s important to understand each other’s differences in values).