The central government has decided to let ministry staff use their pre-marriage family names for work that involves contacting people outside the office, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Friday.
In 2001, the central government decided to let married civil servants use their pre-marriage names internally, such as on documents circulated within the bureaucracy.
In Japan, married couples are legally obliged to use one family name. In most cases, women lose their pre-marriage names. Friday’s decision is intended to provide more flexibility in name use.
Ministry staff, for example, will be allowed to use their pre-marriage names on legal documents shown to people outside the government, including ID cards and notifications of government decisions.
Friday’s decision is part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s campaign pledge to improve the status of working women in society, saying it will help Japan address its rapidly shrinking workforce.
The government hopes Friday’s decision will further “enhance working motivation and create a better working environment for both men and women,” Suga told a news conference.
The Gender Equality Bureau of the Cabinet Office has urged banks and other institutions to let customers use their pre-marriage names. The government’s decision was made in line with its own gender equality campaigns, which are aimed at promoting the use of pre-marriage names, said Manami Ikeda, an official at the Gender Equality Bureau of the Cabinet Office.
Given its small number of female lawmakers and managers, Japan is often criticized for being slow to address its deeply ingrained gender inequality issues.
In the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report produced by the World Economic Forum, Japan was ranked 111th out of 144 countries.
In December 2015, the Supreme Court dismissed claims by five women seeking the right to retain their pre-marriage names after marriage. The court said the century-old Civil Code provision requiring couples to share a surname is “established in Japanese society,” and that the matter should be taken up in the Diet, not the courts.
Separately in June, the Supreme Court announced that judges and court clerks will be allowed to use their pre-marriage names in trial-related papers starting this month.
In 2001, courts started allowing workers to use their original names on clerical papers for internal use. But restrictions on their use in trial-related papers were left in place to clarify who is responsible for the documents.
But the Supreme Court has determined that the use of a person’s pre-marriage name would not cause any confusion, according to media reports.