Japan Tells Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee Efforts to Meet Treaty Obligations Bearing Fruit, but Progress Slow by International Standards

WOM/1742
23 July 2009

Japan Tells Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee Efforts to Meet Treaty Obligations Bearing Fruit, but Progress Slow by International Standards

23 July 2009
General Assembly
WOM/1742
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Committee on Elimination of

 Discrimination against Women

Chamber B, 890th & 891st Meetings (AM & PM)


JAPAN TELLS WOMEN’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE EFFORTS TO MEET TREATY

 

OBLIGATIONS BEARING FRUIT, BUT PROGRESS SLOW BY INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS


Recognizing strides made by women in Japan in the 24 years since the country had acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, experts of the Committee that reviews compliance with that Convention today discussed ways the country could overcome entrenched attitudes and other persistent obstacles to women’s equality.


Presenting Japan’s sixth periodic report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Chieko Nohno, Member of the House of Councillors, said that the effects of the country’s efforts to fulfil its obligations under the Convention were now becoming apparent.  Women who had begun working under the Equal Employment Opportunity Act enacted just after the Convention was ratified were now working in managerial positions in big corporations.  Correspondingly, men who had studied under the equal provision of home economics training that had begun in 1993 were now taking on housekeeping chores, such as taking their children to school.


Ms. Nohno, supported by a 20-person delegation, said that it was undeniable, however, that progress in gender equality had been slow by international standards, despite the country’s high education and development levels.  Stereotypical gender roles remained deeply entrenched, it was difficult for women to balance work and family life, and women had little support for professional advancement.  For that purpose, it was important to further promote “positive actions” by business corporations, support the training of mentors and provide active support for networking, so that women could pursue their careers with high motivation.  Such structural problems, however, could not be overcome in a short time period, and steady and proactive efforts continued.


She said that, in light of the Committee’s last review, a Second Basic Plan for Gender Equality had been formulated in 2005, including strategies to increase women’s representation in leadership roles, business management and scientific occupations.  Attention to work-life balance and the elimination of stereotypes were major components of that plan.  She also outlined legislative action that was being taken to counter violence against women and trafficking in persons.


In their comments and questions, Committee experts expressed concern that overall definitions of discrimination and indirect discrimination, required by the Convention, had yet to be established in Japanese law.  They also noted that discriminatory civil legislation remained, and expressed worry that provisions of the Convention had yet to be enacted into national law.  Even if ratification of the Convention made its provisions binding, judges would often give precedence to laws actually written into domestic law, they maintained.  Training of justices and civil service workers could help rectify that problem, but further legislative action was required, they stressed.


Experts also called for more action to make amends for the Japanese enslavement of foreign women as sexual “comfort women” during the Second World War.  Dealing with that legacy head on, including a strong apology and direct reparations to victims, could help improve attitudes towards women among Japanese society itself, they suggested.  Among other concerns, experts spoke at length about the prevalence of pornographic video games depicting women enjoying rape and other degradation.


Replying at length to those and other concerns, the delegation stressed that discrimination was defined and outlawed by the Japanese Constitution and indirect discrimination was defined in relation to specific laws.  In addition, it affirmed that treaties and conventions had equal status to national law.  Training was provided to judges to help them apply the provisions of the Convention, though more might be needed.


They said that the damage done to “comfort women” had been acknowledged by the Government, and the matter had been settled legally by the Treaty of San Francisco, after the war.  Additionally, assistance to surviving “comfort women” was being provided.  They agreed that the problem of video games and the civic codes were of great concern and were now the subject of public discussion.  They stressed that the advice and guidance of the Committee would be used for further progress in all areas.


The Committee will meet again in Chamber B at 10 a.m., on Friday, 24 July, to consider Azerbaijan’s fourth periodic reports.


Background


The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to consider the sixth periodic report of Japan (document CEDAW/C/JPN/6).


The Japanese delegation was headed by Chieko Nohno, Member of the House of Councillors.  It also included, from the Gender Equality Bureau: Atsuko Okajima, Yuko Tsukasaki, Atsuhiro Kaneko and Sakiko Yonamine.  From the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it included: Mitsuko Shino, Junko Irie and Kei Kamei, and from the Ministry of Justice, Kazuki Komagata, Fuminori Sano, Junichiro Otani, Naomi Hirota, Eriko Nakanishi.  From the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare were: Natsuko Horii, Mari Arakaki, and from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Tomochika Motomura.  Machi Oshiyama attended from the Ministry of Education, Sports, Science and Technology and Takashi Ashiki, Akihito Teruuchi and Fuzuki Nomura from the Mission of Japan to the United Nations.


Introduction of Report


Ms. NOHNO, noting that 24 years had passed since Japan had acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, said that the effects of the country’s efforts to fulfil its obligations under the Convention were now becoming apparent.  Women who had begun working under the Equal Employment Opportunity Act enacted during the same period, and their younger colleagues, were now working in managerial positions in big corporations.  Correspondingly, men who had studied under the equal provision of home economics training that had begun in 1993 were now taking on housekeeping chores and taking their children to school, among other tasks.


She said it was undeniable, however, that progress in gender equality had been slow by international standards, despite the country’s high education and development levels.  Stereotypical gender roles remained deeply entrenched; it was difficult for women to balance work and family life, and women had little support for professional advancement.  For that purpose, it was important to further promote “positive actions” by business corporations, support the training of mentors and provide active support for networking, so that women could pursue their careers with high motivation.  Such structural problems, however, could not be overcome in a short time period, and steady and proactive efforts continued.


She said that, in light of the Committee’s last review, discussions had been held at the Council for Gender Equality, and the Second Basic Plan for Gender Equality had been formulated in 2005.  As with the First Basic Plan, the new Plan was based on the Beijing Platform for Action, but further revisions to laws had been made.  The expansion of women’s participation in decision-making in all fields was targeted, with the goal of increasing women’s share of leadership positions to at least 30 per cent by 2020.  Along with the Third Science and Technology Basic Plan, a target had also been set for 25 per cent women among all natural science researchers, as well as increasing women’s participation in agriculture, engineering and technology.  The Government had instituted work child-care programmes to help achieve that.


In 2008, she added, the headquarters for the Promotion of Gender Equality had formulated the Programme for the Acceleration of Women’s Social Participation, which helped women achieve work-life balance, capacity-building and awareness-raising to boost women’s participation in all fields.  The Programme had set a target of raising the percentage of female national public employees at the managerial level from the 1.7 per cent of 2005 to around 5 per cent by the end of fiscal year 2010.


In the field of employment, initiatives had reduced cases of explicit gender discrimination, she noted.  Remaining cases of discrimination and other harmful treatment tended to be more complex and difficult.  For that reason, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act had been revised in 2006 to encourage companies to take positive action to eliminate existing gender gaps.  To spur fair treatment of non-regular women workers, the Act on Improvement of Employment Management for Part-Time Workers had been revised and had been in force since 2008.  The Government had also provided support for new business start-ups to encourage women in that area.


Regarding work-life balance, she said the Government methodically visited business premises to confirm that the necessary systems had been put in place as per the rules of employment.  Rules on family leave, overtime and other matters were becoming firmly entrenched.  Since many women were still quitting their jobs because of childbirth, the Child Care and Family Leave Act had been revised several times, lastly in June.  Plans for support to workers to balance work and child-rearing, in businesses with more than 301 permanent workers, must be submitted to the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare.  Efforts to expand that programme to smaller businesses were under way.  In addition, the 2007 Charter for Work-Life Balance and the Action Policy for Work-Life Balance set forth all fundamental policies in the area, taking into account varied lifestyles.


In the area of violence against women, she said that penalties had been strengthened in 2004 for rape, forced indecency and other crimes.  In addition, the Government had defined the crime of gang rape so a heavier penalty could be applied in such cases.  The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women had been marked with two weeks of awareness programmes.  The 2001 Act on the Prevention of Spousal Violence had been twice revised to broaden the definition of violence to be prevented and to expand the protection order system.  A telephone guidance service had been established for victims and potential victims, and efforts were being made to facilitate service at consultation desks in police stations.


Turning to trafficking in persons, she said that a 2004 action plan had engendered collaborative work between relevant ministries and agencies to help eradicate that problem and a review of the plan had begun in July.  In 2005, the Diet had ratified the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.  A corresponding law partially revising the Penal Code had come into force, as well.  Several revisions had been made to immigration laws to protect victims.


Since 2008, she said, the Council for Gender Equality had also examined the difficulties women faced in their lives, such as those posed by single-parent families, domestic violence, unstable employment and living abroad.  Finally, The Government had been studying the possibility of adopting the Optional Protocol.  As there were currently a range of different opinions in that regard, the country would consider those discussions.


Experts’ Comments and Questions


PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said that the need for a definition for discrimination had been one of the first comments directed to Japan in earlier reviews.  Up to now, there still was no such definition.  The definition of indirect discrimination in the Equal Opportunity Law was extremely restricted and problematic.  She encouraged further work in that area.  In addition, the Civil Code still contained discriminatory provisions in many areas. She asked about plans to eliminate such laws.  She also asked about progress on the inter-ministerial dialogue in regard to the Optional Protocol.


NIKLAS BRUUN, expert from Finland, said the status of the Convention under domestic law was a matter of concern.  He asked what was being done to ensure the Convention’s full incorporation into national law, since the latter often seemed to overrule the Convention.  He expressed the need for awareness-raising among justices and civil service employees.  He also asked what the Government intended to do about the open market for pornographic games, in which women and girls were depicted as enjoying being raped.


DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, worried that the Convention was seen in Japan as merely a declaration and not as fully incorporated national law.  In order to remedy that situation, it was important to ratify the Optional Protocol.  She also noted disparaging remarks made by high Government officials about older women, and asked how their effects would be countered in the future.


VIOLETA NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, asked for a clearer picture of the gender quality machinery in Japan and how gender mainstreaming was ensured.  She also asked for concrete information on the main results from the implementation of the Second Basic Plan, and whether the Convention was being considered in the formulation of the Third Basic Plan.


Country Response


The delegation responded that gender-based discrimination was prohibited by the Japanese Constitution.  The Women’s Convention had been ratified in 1985 and before that the Equal Opportunity Law had been enacted, along with many other related laws.  The Government was preparing the Third Basic Plan, with the Convention as a very important instrument.  Awareness campaigns were being instituted, pamphlets were published for the public about the treaty’s thirtieth anniversary, and training was being provided for justices and civil servants.


Regarding the national machinery, the delegation said that the National Equality Bureau reported directly to the Prime Minister and other Ministers and that the Government had allotted some ¥4 trillion for its operations.  It was trying to establish a society based on gender equality.  Twelve State ministers and advisers comprised the national panel on equality and there were also many special committees on the impact of specific policies.


The civil code had not been amended, they said, adding that it had been the law of nationalities that had been amended to comply with the Convention.  The country was working very hard to counter gender stereotyping, including through awareness-raising and the presentation of role models.


A delegate added that the definition of indirect discrimination had been based on suggestions by the Committee, and a stronger definition had been sought in multisectoral dialogues.  New kinds of cases would be added in the future.  Concerning revisions to the civil codes, discussions were ongoing.  On raising awareness among justices, there was training on matters related to the Convention being seated on the bench.  As for the Convention’s status in national law, the Constitution held that international agreements had the same effectiveness as domestic law.  As had been mentioned, inter-ministerial study groups had been examining the Optional Protocol; however, some conflicts with the Japanese justice system had become evident.  Discussions were ongoing for that reason.


Games depicting violence against women had become a serious issue in Japan.  The Government had instituted a study group to suggest policy directions in that area.


Experts’ Comments and Questions


Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, asked for more information on concrete measures to counter stereotyping, in particular with regard to the educational system and the media, and introduced questions about exploitation of women.


SOLEDAD MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, said that the Government should make a public apology for sexual slavery of women during the Second World War and prosecute those responsible while they were still alive.  Such action would do much to change attitudes in Japan towards women.  She asked what policies were in place, including those on punishment of perpetrators and compensation for victims.


VIOLET TSISIGA AWORI, expert from Kenya, asked for up-to-date information on women admitted to Japan on entertainment visas, which were associated with trafficking.  In addition, maintaining that trafficking laws were now piecemeal, she asked if a comprehensive law was being considered.  She also noted that internship and trainee programmes were now being used to exploit women and claimed that the Government had made such programmes easier, which might be exacerbating the problem.


ZOHRA RASEKH, expert from Afghanistan, said that the promotion of sexual violence by video games should be stopped, and asked what measures were being taken in that regard.  She also asked about measures to stop marital rape and sexual abuse of children.


Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, said it was clear that more preventive measures were needed to stop violence against women.  In the area of domestic violence, it was important to cover all intimate relations and to ensure that help lines were available 24 hours a day.  She asked if marital rape had been criminalized.


Country Response


The delegation agreed it was important to include gender equality in the media.  There were no laws that ensured that, but guidelines had been distributed to all media outlets.  Improvements would occur if the target of 30 per cent of women holding positions in media by 2010 was met.


There were provisions for shelter and other assistance for victims of trafficking, said the delegation.  Trafficking was subjected to harsh punishment.  There was no comprehensive law, but current laws were constantly revised to cover the problem.  Regarding pornography, the child pornography law was being strengthened.  Animated pornography was not covered under that law.


The scope of the spousal violence law had been expanded, but it was important that it be effectively enforced, acknowledged the delegation, which also sought improved telephone consultation services for victims of violence.  There had been a response to internships and training programmes that had been exploitive, including hotlines, visits to companies and immigration surveillance.  Labour laws had been revised to include trainees as well.


Guidance would be increased for companies to combat workplace harassment, with public censure of those companies that did not cooperate.  In 2008, 9,238 interventions had been provided.


The delegation said that war had been renounced in the Japanese Constitution; that had been the major lesson of the Second World War in Japan.  The Government had already expressed remorse for the use of “comfort women”, and the issue had been legally settled, but the Asian Women’s Fund was being assisted to help “comfort women” in their old age, with some ¥4.8 billion being provided for that purpose.


Concerning education on gender equality, training in human rights had been given to teachers, the delegation said.  Responding to other questions, the delegates said that marital rape was punishable as rape.  In addition, there had been a huge reduction of issuance of entertainment visas.  Victims of trafficking received flexible treatment, including special permission to stay in the country.


Experts’ Comments and Questions


Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, said that there was evidence that justices were often not aware of the Convention, even if international agreements had status.  In addition, the issuance of protection orders should be speeded up.


Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said that the Constitution was not enough to fulfil the need for a definition of discrimination.  Neither were definitions that were included in specific laws.  In all legal matters, it was necessary for women to receive legal aid to adequately participate in the system, and she asked what provisions were being made for that.


Mr. BRUUN, expert from Finland, and Ms. RASEKH, expert from Afghanistan, asked for more details on measures against sexual violence, workplace harassment and other matters.  Ms. MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, asked if “comfort women” were actually receiving the funds mentioned and if there would be sanctions against the perpetrators of their abuse.


ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, expressed the hope that Japan would face the issue of “comfort women” honestly.  She also asked what form of punishment was received by those who had been convicted of marital rape.


Country Response


The delegation replied that training courses were available for judges, and there was a law for legal assistance, which was provided to victims of harassment and others.  It reiterated that marital rape was considered rape.  The 1996 partial revision of civil codes was posted publicly and national opinion was frequently surveyed to promote discourse and encourage further change.  The delegates agreed that quicker protection orders could be useful in cases of marital violence, but there was a need for care in applying such orders.


They also described some of the remedies available in sexual harassment cases, saying that, often, the priority was protecting the employment of the victims involved.  There were extensive mechanisms to deal with sexual harassment in educational settings.  The delegation reiterated that the San Francisco peace treaty had settled all legal issues regarding “comfort women”.  Payments to individual women depended on the country in which they resided.


Experts’ Comments and Questions


NICOLE AMELINE, expert from France, started off with questions about women’s participation in decision-making positions, asked whether quotas or other enforceable benchmarks were envisioned to ensure balance in key professional sectors, since equality in those areas was essential to equality in a democratic society.


Ms. MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, said that too much faith was being placed in awareness-raising to ensure the political participation of women.  The goals envisaged for 2020 were far in the future, but the number of women presently in high political office was woefully low for a developed country.


MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said that, even if there were many women representing Japan in international organizations, too little had been done in the past few years to increase women’s representation in national and local government.


Country Response


The delegation said it recognized that women’s political participation was much too low and that was why the Government had targeted a 30 per cent increase by 2020.  There was no quota system nationally, but some political parties did have quotas for women candidates.  Government organs were promoting women’s participation through awareness-raising and other action, and there were many role models for women’s leadership.  The delegates noted that there was a high percentage of Japanese women active in international organizations, but acknowledged that that area was less significant because it involved comparatively few people.


Experts’ Comments and Questions


BARBARA EVELYN BAILEY, expert from Jamaica, starting the discussion of educational and work-related matters, asked about the Government’s position on sex education in schools, as well as screening of textbooks for gender-related material.  She commented that the teaching of mutual respect was not always sufficient to overcome stereotypes.  She also asked for explanations of the gap between the high rate of women in higher education and the relatively low rate of women professors and other occupations which should result from such education.  She asked also for more information on minority women’s access to education.


Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, noted that the gender pay gap had actually increased in the period 2004 to 2006, and asked how the Government planned to tackle the issue.  Provisions of current laws seemed to cover very few part-time and other irregular workers.  Improvement of the legislative framework was crucial to establish the principle of equal pay for equal work.  She also maintained that the tax treatment for domestic work was discriminatory.


Mr. BRUUN, expert from Finland, said that many more women than men were working in non-permanent positions and he asked what the Government was doing to improve that situation.  He sought clarification on how employees hired out through agencies were treated under equal employment laws.  He also asked about Government efforts to help minority women in the labour market.


Ms. AMELINE, expert from France, asked if there were improvements planned to the maternity-leave system, and to whom family payments were made.  She urged an increase in child-care facilities.


Ms. XIAOQIAO, expert from China, starting the discussion of health matters, praised Japanese programmes that had led to low maternal mortality rates.  She asked about HIV/AIDS prevalence rates and measures planned by the Government in that area, as well as for reducing teenage abortion rates.  She expressed concern that not enough was being done in the area of teen sex education, particularly to counter the effect of pornographic video games.


Ms. RASEKH, expert from Afghanistan, asked for details about punishment for illegal abortions and the requirement to secure male agreement for an abortion.  She also discussed the reticence of Ainu women to go to doctors because of the social stigma against body hair, and expressed concerns over the health effects of military bases in Okinawa, particularly on pregnant women.


Ms. XIAOQIAO, expert from China, raised the problems of rural women.  She asked for more detailed information about their situation, including their access to credit and education and their protections against domestic violence.  Had any surveys been conducted on problems faced by foreign women married to Japanese men?


Country response


On educational equality, the delegation said that relevant law had been revised in 2006 and now many schools were coeducational.  Based on the new law, a new education promotion plan had been instituted in 2008, giving many opportunities to women students.  Textbooks were written in the private sector, but were authorized by the Ministry of Education.  Local boards could choose among those books.  Gender equality was considered in the authorization process, and there were textbooks targeting gender stereotypes.


There was no teaching requirement about so-called “comfort women”, but some authorized textbooks included information about them.  Since 2008, universities had been encouraged to promote women for faculty positions, and the percentage of women on faculties was increasing.  Encouragement was also provided for women to enter engineering careers.  Sex education was provided to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and to help counter the prevalence of sexual material in the media.


Regarding the wage gap, the delegation said it was narrowing, but was still a problem compared to other industrialized countries, possibly because of differences in length of service.  Life-work measures were essential to make it easier for women to stay at their jobs after childbirth.  In labour law, however, women were entitled to equal pay.  There was a labour law regulating the employment of workers dispatched by agencies.  Definitive information on part-time workers was not available, but the Government provided subsidies to companies who converted such workers to full-time.


Minority women were by protected under the Constitution from discrimination, and by law in work situations, delegates said.  Women in rural areas had been given access to credit and other help in pursuing business enterprises.  Regarding health concerns from the noise generated by American bases in Okinawa, consultations had been ongoing and noise-proof windows had been subsidized.


Experts’ Comments and Questions


Ms. AWORI, expert from Kenya, asked what measures were being taken to revise the Civil Code.  She also noted that 1 out of 16 Japanese men were married to foreign women and asked how those women were protected.  She also asked about specific measures to protect migrants, single mothers and other women in difficult situations.


Country Response


Information on civil codes was subjected to public discussion by being posted on websites, so that a change in attitude could be achieved, the delegation said.  As for foreign women married to Japanese men, decisions were made on a case-by-case basis on protections in cases of divorce.  Many factors were considered when deciding whether those women were allowed to remain in Japan.  There was a special cabinet committee that was examining issues related to women in the difficult situations that had been mentioned by the expert.


Experts’ Comments and Questions


Ms. PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, asked if the large percentage of women in irregular employment did not represent discrimination itself.  On the other hand, there were only some 5 per cent of women in management careers.


Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, reiterated that if the Convention was actually part of the national legal system, then the civil codes that conflicted with it would be struck down.


Ms. RASEKH, expert from Afghanistan, said it was evident that more measures must be taken to counter discrimination against minority women in employment and other areas.  She asked if such measures were now planned.


Country Response


The delegation responded that many women chose to work part-time, but it was important to have fair practices no matter what kind of work was chosen.  That principle also applied to the different careers chosen.  It affirmed again that the Convention was considered law in Japan and that minority women were protected by legislation.


Concluding Remarks


Ms. NEUBAUER, expert from Slovenia, expressed appreciation for the Second Basic Plan and other measures to decrease discrimination against women in Japan, but said that much more must be done.  She summed up the concerns expressed by experts, including the lack of a definition of discrimination and the need to incorporate the Convention into national law and other areas.  She hoped that the dialogue would inspire more action to bring the country into compliance with the Convention.


The delegation thanked the Committee for its advice.


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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.