I rolled my eyes when I saw a video entitled, “What Japanese Women are saying about discrimination in Japan“. I mean, what’s new? Women have always been the object of discrimination in every part of the world. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear such news from a country that ranked 114th out of 144 countries in gender equality. I expected the news to disappoint me, but this really took things to another level. If you haven’t heard of this piece of news by now, prepare yourself.
Breaking News: Tokyo Medical University was caught manipulating their entrance exam scores in order to keep the percentage of women admitted each year around 30%. It was initially reported that the university had been lowering test scores of female applicants since 2011, due to the increasing percentage of women winning places and doubling to 40% in 2010. In fact, further investigations revealed that not only has this practice been around since 2006 (or even earlier!), they even added an additional 20 points to all male applicants who have not failed the test more than four times. They also added another 10 points to male applicants taking the exam for the fourth time, while men who have failed more than four times and women were put on an equal chopping board. To put this in perspective, the passing rate for male applicants is at 8.8 percent, whereas it is 2.9 percent for the ladies.
Their reason for their discrimination against women applicants?
“Because they quit after getting married or having children, leaving our university and affiliated hospitals without enough doctors” – University Source
Let’s take a moment to take it into consideration that this is real and that it actually happened.
As one of the most prestigious medical schools in Japan, it came as a shock to many and understandably outraged a lot of people. This caused many women to take their stories of discrimination to Twitter with the hashtag #私たちは女性差別に怒っていい, which translates to “it’s okay for us to be angry about sexism towards women”. The way the hashtag was phrased insinuates that it was not okay for women in Japan to publicly express their anger towards sexism. They recount many times where they were wrongfully forced to quit their jobs due to their pregnancy or have their competency challenged just because they were women and were expected to get married, have children and eventually quit their job. YouTubers Rachel & Jun used their platform to translate those tweets and allow for their voices to be heard by a wider audience.
Although Japan is at the forefront of innovation and technology in the world, why is it that their mentality is still stuck in the 1950s? Women in Japan are still heavily pressured to conform to gender roles and possess ideal qualities like silence, subservience, and femininity. They still face discrimination in many aspects of their lives, and evidently, in their workplace. In fact, it is extremely difficult for them to be promoted and attain high positions; citing critically low percentage of 7.4% who are women that hold an executive position in listed corporations, and ranking dead last amongst major economies when it comes to women in politics.
Sadly, the barrier to entry for women in the workforce is largely due to Japan’s culture and circumstances. As a country that highly values group harmony over individualism, women are conditioned to stay quiet and not cause trouble about their discrimination. Holding their traditions with high regards, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe believes that gender equality could bring damage to family values and Japanese culture, such as their tradition of celebrating young girls and the “state of matrimony” (Festival of Dolls). Fellow conservatives believe that women staying home would be better for the economy and their declining birthrates. I mean, if the country’s “baby-making machines”, as the former LDP health minister put it, stayed home, they would produce more babies, right?
While it is true that as much as 70% of women don’t return to the workforce after having their first child, it would be more accurate to say they usually do not have any opportunities to do so. A survey conducted by Ministry of Labour, Health & Welfare shows that 66% of women want to return to the workforce, but due to limited daycare services and discouragement of men taking paternity leaves, it is usually impossible.
Can Japan attain their target goal of having 30% of women in leadership roles by 2020? It may seem like a far-fetched idea, especially just by looking at the Tokyo Medical University situation. But let’s look at it this way – the situation has also allowed for many open conversations about sexism in Japan, and also serves as a wake-up call for the country to re-assess their progress. All we can do is hope for Japan to take a step in the right direction.