Yoko Hayashi, the first Japanese head of a U.N. watchdog on women’s rights, is geared up to help improve the lives of females suffering discrimination.
In February, the 59-year-old Tokyo-based lawyer assumed the chair of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, becoming the first Japanese leader of the U.N. body.
This year happens to mark the 30th anniversary of Japan ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
“I would like to utilize my experience and trust I have earned during my legal career,” said Hayashi, who joined the committee in 2008.
Hayashi said that her favorite phrase is “a person makes history,” because “I believe that when something happens, there must always be someone who strives to make that happen.”
The U.N. committee is to monitor if states that ratified the convention implement concrete measures to empower women and counteract discrimination against them, referring to evaluations by international organizations and civic groups.
Hayashi explained that each state deals with different forms of discrimination, which can range from human trafficking to sexist corporate rules.
Hayashi noted that girls can also be the subject of discrimination, citing Nigeria, where schoolgirls have been kidnapped in droves by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram.
“We have to eliminate despicable violence against women and protect their right to be educated,” she said.
A native of Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, Hayashi entered university in 1975 — the year the United Nations designated as the International Women’s Year — and developed an interest in gender issues.
After becoming a lawyer, Hayashi worked as a volunteer at safety shelters for women and learned that many women from Thailand, the Philippines and other countries are forced to work as prostitutes and are being exploited.
In Japan, she said “what we have to do first is to eliminate the gap in wages between male and female workers and introduce a quota system in politics” by reserving a certain number of Diet seats for female candidates.
Her term as committee chairwoman is two years.