It's been 30 years since the law mandating equal employment opportunities for men and women, aimed at eliminating gender-based discrimination in the recruitment, promotion and other treatment of workers, was introduced. Female labor participation in Japan has since steadily increased, and some of the obsolete stereotypes, practices and outright discrimination against women in the workplace have either disappeared or been reduced. However, new legislation that took full effect on the very anniversary of the 1986 law highlights the continuing challenges that confront working women.
The equal employment opportunity law, enacted in 1985 and taking effect on April 1 the following year, initially lacked teeth — only requiring companies to make efforts against discriminatory treatment in the recruitment, hiring, assignment and promotion of workers for gender-based reasons. A 1999 amendment legally banned such discrimination, while subsequent revisions have also prohibited indirect forms of discrimination in promotion as well as unfair treatment for reasons involving marriage, pregnancy and childbirth.
Prior to the law, many companies hired male and female workers in different job categories to play essentially disparate roles, with men taking charge of the primary work and women engaging in assistant tasks. The law was a part of Japan's response as it ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.