National / Politics

Over 50% of assemblywomen in Japan have been sexually harassed, survey suggests

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

In yet another sign of deep-rooted sexism in Japan, more than 50 percent of local assemblywomen who responded to a recent survey said they had been sexually harassed while on duty.

The Alliance of Feminist Representatives (AFER), a nationwide group of female politicians that advocates for the introduction of gender quotas for elected officials, said 52 percent of people who responded to its survey on sexual discrimination indicated they had been targeted by sexual harassment at least once.

The activist group polled local assemblywomen across the country last summer in the wake of an incident in June 2014, in which Ayaka Shiomura, a 35-year-old Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly member, suffered sexist heckling during an assembly session. The group released a brochure on the results on Aug. 1, after following up with the respondents.

Of the 600 female assembly members across Japan contacted by the group, 143 completed the written survey. Seventy-four said they had been sexually harassed, while 67 said they had been offended by their male counterparts.

Fifty respondents said they had been harassed up to five times — while 13, or about 20 percent of the respondents, could not recall the exact number of times they were harassed because they occurred daily.

“Though (only) 52 percent of the respondents said they had been abused, many others who initially said they had never been harassed revealed in further communication that some of the remarks and practices they encountered might be deemed abusive,” AFER’s Taeko Koiso told the Japan Times.

“I believe that the actual percentage of assemblywomen who have suffered sexual abuse is much higher,” said Koiso, who is a member of the Chigasaki Municipal Assembly in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Koiso pointed out that although sexual harassment is banned by law, with regulations requiring employers to take measures against it, problematic practices are pervasive in politics, which remains an overwhelmingly male-dominated field in Japan.

“Because Diet members and prefectural- and municipal-level assembly members are elected by society, I believe they mirror society,” Koiso said.

She lamented that, unlike in the corporate world, where employees are often trained on sexual harassment, assembly members rarely have such opportunities, as “they are considered to have met all the conditions to represent society.”

Sixteen of the female respondents also said they had been subjected to verbal offenses or disdain, while eight reported being targeted by indecent remarks during assembly sessions.

Some respondents said they had been neglected or forced to buy cigarettes for their male coworkers, while others had endured taunts such as: “Why don’t you strip?” or “You must get excited by being groped.”

Fourteen respondents recounted having unwanted physical contact with male coworkers.

“We hope these findings will help people become more aware of sexual harassment and discrimination against women, and that they will be used in human rights training for government officials,” Koiso said. “I also hope this will help increase the awareness of citizens, whose job it is to keep an eye on lawmakers they have elected.”