The Finance Ministry gave senior officials a training course on Wednesday with the goal of preventing sexual harassment following the recent resignation of its top bureaucrat, who allegedly harassed a female reporter.
It is the first time the ministry has hosted blanket lectures against sexual harassment for senior officials. Its internal consultants, who are in charge of providing counselling for employees on sexual harassment, also joined the event.
Takako Sugaya, a lawyer who gave a lecture during the training session, urged participants to have a sense of ownership so as to prevent sexual harassment, saying that perception of the matter within the ministry is much different from the feeling of the general public.
Sexual harassment “could become a case in which criminal responsibility will be sought,” Sugaya said, adding, “Judging from media reports, I have become doubtful of earlier excuses by the perpetrator and responses (by the ministry).”
The ministry provides training against sexual harassment when employees are promoted but had never before held an event targeting all senior bureaucrats.
Finance Minister Taro Aso had called on the ministry to provide intensive training for senior officials and take necessary measures to prevent misconduct from happening again by gathering the opinions of female employees.
Administrative Vice Minister Junichi Fukuda stepped down last month over allegations that he sexually harassed a female reporter. While the ministry later confirmed an act of sexual harassment by the top bureaucrat, Fukuda denied it.
The Finance Ministry has remained under fire partly because Aso has repeated comments that, “There is no such thing as a sexual harassment charge (in Japan’s Penal Code).”
The remarks by the 77-year-old former prime minister, a close ally of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, were widely taken as an attempt to downplay the sexual harassment allegations, prompting women’s rights groups to rally in a number of cities nationwide on Monday.
Aso faces growing calls from opposition lawmakers to step down for having chosen Fukuda for the top bureaucrat position
Fukuda quit on April 24 after a weekly magazine reported that he asked the journalist: “Can I give you a hug?” and “Can I touch your breasts?” The magazine also released an audio clip of the exchange.
The ministry cut Fukuda’s retirement benefits in acknowledgement of the incident.