National

Women’s university in Japan officially announces new policy to start accepting transgender students from 2020

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

In what is believed to be a first in Japan, a prestigious national women’s university officially announced Tuesday its new policy to open doors from 2020 to people who were assigned as male at birth but identify as female, saying it’s a natural decision that takes gender diversity into account.

The landmark move by Ochanomizu University is expected to accelerate national discussions regarding admissions at other women universities, which currently limit enrollment to those listed as women on their family registry.

“We want to accept people who sincerely wish to study at Ochanomizu University. It’s a natural thing to do in a society that embraces diversity,” President Kimiko Murofushi said during a news conference held at the university, which is located in Tokyo.

Ochanomizu — which was established in 1875 as the nation’s first higher education institution for women — said it will change its admission criteria on gender to include those listed as men on their family registry but who identify as female, Murofushi said.

The university will launch a working group soon that will work toward making the campus transgender-friendly, discussing matters such as the facilities necessary and support needed for students to lead comfortable lives on campus.

“We hope this move will lead to realizing a society where ‘diverse women’ can participate in every field and fully exercise their abilities and individuality,” Murofushi said.

Ochanomizu launched a committee last year to discuss its policy on transgender students, after it received an inquiry from a person who was born male but identifies as female. She said the school was the only institution that offered the coursework she wanted to pursue.

After the committee decided to open the university’s doors to transgender individuals, Ochanomizu held a number of meetings to explain the planned admission policy changes to students, their parents, staff and graduates. So far, it has received no negative response from them, Murofushi said.

Apart from Ochanomizu, Tsuda University and Japan Women’s University also told The Japan Times last year that they were discussing whether to change their admission policy to accept transgender students, saying they felt it was about time they thought about broadening their definition of women at a time when society is starting to accommodate the needs of sexual minorities.

Similar discussions about whether to admit transgender women have taken place in the United States in recent years. Since 2014, the so-called Seven Sisters women’s colleges — a consortium of prestigious colleges on the East Coast — changed their admission policies to allow the enrollment of transgender women.

According to an education ministry survey released in 2014, Japanese elementary, junior high and high schools had recognized 606 students experiencing gender dysphoria, defined as conflict between one’s assigned gender and that with which one identifies. The survey results prompted the ministry to urge schools to appropriately deal with the students, through steps such as allowing them to wear school uniforms that allow them to feel comfortable.